Trump & Administration

Let This Quote Sink In

That quote should go in every history book, because it epitomizes both the arrogance and the ignorance of the Trump campaign.  We’ve gone from “Only I can fix this” in his convention speech to “I thought it would be easier”.

A man who doesn’t know that President of the United States is the hardest job title ON THE PLANET, should never run.

Trump Loses In Federal Court…. Again…. This Time on Sanctuary Cities

A federal district court ruling yesterday bars President Trump from withholding funds from jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal agencies to deport undocumented immigrants, marking his second setback in court on immigration.  The first setback, of course, was his Muslim ban.

Before I get to the substance of this post, first things first:

No, it wasn’t the Ninth Circuit that ruled against Donald — it was a federal district court — one level down.  Yes, the court is within the Ninth Circuit, but it isn’t the ACTUAL Ninth Circuit court itself.  So the next stop isn’t the Supreme Court, it’s the Ninth Circuit.

Also, it wasn’t JUST the Ninth Circuit that ruled against Trump’s Muslim ban; it was a federal district court in Maryland.  And Massachusetts, I believe, as well.

*Sigh*.  He apparently thinks you sue a circuit court when you don’t like a decision.

Look, the opinion was a no-brainer.

Trump’s order, signed Jan. 25, threatened to cut off funding from local governments that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. Santa Clara County and the city of San Francisco challenged the order, arguing, among other things, that the president doesn’t have the power to withhold federal money.

They’re right. He doesn’t.

The 49-page ruling focused largely on an all-too-familiar theme for this administration: the consequences of bragging and bluster by Trump and top administration officials.

Just like the judges who ruled on Trump’s travel ban, Judge Orrick homed in on the vast discrepancies between what government lawyers defending the sanctuary cities order argued in court and what administration officials said about it in public.

In court, the government tried to make the case that the order doesn’t actually do anything, at least not at the moment, because the administration has yet to define what exactly a sanctuary city is or threaten any particular jurisdiction with a loss of funds.  It was their way of convincing the judge to toss out the lawsuit on the grounds that no city or county has yet suffered any harm.

The problem with that approach is that administration officials boasted about how the order would force sanctuary cities to their knees, singling out particular places.  So, in court, the Trump lawyers argued that it was essentially an empty shell even though it was portrayed in news conferences, briefings and television interviews as a powerful tool to protect the public from dangerous undocumented immigrants being shielded by wayward cities and counties.

Fine,said, Judge Orrick. If the order is powerless, then surely you won’t mind if I impose this injunction which prevents you from actually doing anything. So that’s what he did.

I somehow don’t think Trump was briefed about that, because he is treating it as a loss.  Which it IS, but it’s just what his lawyers argued.

According to Orrick, the government contended that the order was merely an example of Trump using the “bully pulpit” to “highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement” — in essence, something much more benign than what Trump and company had described.

The argument was lost on the judge, who ridiculed the government’s position as “schizophrenic.”

“If there was doubt about the scope of the Order, the President and Attorney General have erased it with their public comments,” Orrick wrote.

“Is the Order merely a rhetorical device,” he added, “or a ‘weapon’ to defund the Counties and those who have implemented a different law enforcement strategy than the Government currently believes is desirable?”

The ruling continued: “The statements of the President, his press secretary and the Attorney General belie the Government’s argument in the briefing that the Order does not change the law. They have repeatedly indicated an intent to defund sanctuary jurisdictions in compliance with the Executive Order.”

Here is the decision.  If you do nothing else, read the last paragraph.

The Associated Press Trump Interview of WTF — Annotated

So anyway, the president gave an interview to AP and it is scaring the crap out of everybody because it is Trumpian in its incoherence.  Let’s take a look, shall we?  The emphases are mine:

A transcript of an Oval Office interview Friday with President Donald Trump by AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace. Where the audio recording of the interview is unclear, ellipses or a notation that the recording was unintelligible are used.

AP: I do want to talk to you about the 100 days.

TRUMP: Good.

AP: I want to ask a few questions on some topics that are happening toward the end of the interview.

TRUMP: Did you see Aya (Hijazi, an Egyptian-American charity worker who had been detained in the country for nearly three years) …

AP: Can you tell me a little bit about how that came about?

TRUMP: No, just — you know, I asked the government to let her out. …

TRUMP: You know Obama worked on it for three years, got zippo, zero.

AP: How did you hear about this story?

The answer is probably Newsmax.

TRUMP: Many people, human rights people, are talking about it. It’s an incredible thing, especially when you meet her. You realize — I mean, she was in a rough place.

AP: Did you have to strike a deal with (Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah) el-Sissi over this?

TRUMP: No. No deal. He was here. He — I said, “I really would appreciate it if you would look into this and let her out.” And as you know, she went through a trial. And anyway, she was let go. And not only she, it was a total of eight people. …

Whatever.

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s funny: One of the best chemistries I had was with (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel.

(Crosstalk) AP: Really?

TRUMP: Chancellor Merkel.

TRUMP: And I guess somebody shouted out, “Shake her hand, shake her hand,” you know. But I never heard it. But I had already shaken her hand four times. You know, because we were together for a long time.

AP: Did you expect you would have good chemistry with her?

TRUMP: No. Because, um, I’m at odds on, you know, the NATO payments and I’m at odds on immigration. We had unbelievable chemistry. And people have given me credit for having great chemistry with all of the leaders, including el-Sissi. …

TRUMP: So it was a great thing to see that happen.

Clearly, he is being defensive about the criticism he received for not shaking Merkel’s hands.  And notice that we are barely into the interview when Trump talks about “people” — nameless “people” — who praise him.

AP: Do you feel like you have changed the office of the presidency, how the presidency can be used to effect change?

TRUMP: I think the 100 days is, you know, it’s an artificial barrier. It’s not very meaningful. I think I’ve established amazing relationships that will be used the four or eight years, whatever period of time I’m here. I think for that I would be getting very high marks because I’ve established great relationships with countries, as President el-Sissi has shown and others have shown. Well, if you look at the president of China, people said they’ve never seen anything like what’s going on right now. I really liked him a lot. I think he liked me. We have a great chemistry together. …

Important to be liked.

TRUMP: I’ve developed great relationships with all of these leaders. Nobody’s written that. In fact, they said, “Oh, well, he’s not treating them nicely,” because on NATO, I want them to pay up. But I still get along with them great, and they will pay up. In fact, with the Italian prime minister yesterday, you saw, we were joking, “Come on, you have to pay up, you have to pay up.” He’ll pay.

AP: Did he say that? In your meeting? Your private meeting?

TRUMP: He’s going to end up paying. But you know, nobody ever asked the question. Nobody asked. Nobody ever asked him to pay up. So it’s a different kind of a presidency.

Yes, it IS a different kind of presidency.

AP: Do you feel like that’s one thing that you’ve changed, that you maybe are actually asking the direct questions about some of these things?

TRUMP: Yeah. Let me give me an example. A little before I took office there was a terrible article about the F-35 fighter jet. It was hundreds of billions of dollars over budget. It was seven years behind schedule. It was a disaster. So I called in Lockheed and I said, “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to bid this out to another company, namely Boeing,” or whoever else. But Boeing. And I called in Boeing and I started getting competing offers back and forth. …

TRUMP: I saved $725 million on the 90 planes. Just 90. Now there are 3,000 planes that are going to be ordered. On 90 planes I saved $725 million. It’s actually a little bit more than that, but it’s $725 million. Gen. Mattis, who had to sign the deal when it came to his office, said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” We went from a company that wanted more money for the planes to a company that cut. And the reason they cut — same planes, same everything — was because of me. I mean, because that’s what I do.

He could have saved even more by not getting the planes at all.  That said, Trump’s claim is Mostly False. The savings on the F-35 fighter jets are real, but they were in the works long before Trump got involved.

The Defense Department has a plan to acquire more than 2,400 F-35 aircraft from Lockheed Martin over 20 years, at a cost of around $379 billion. During his campaign and transition, Trump said publicly he wanted the costs to come down, and he held discussions with Lockheed Martin representatives.

On Feb. 3, the department announced a $728 million cost reduction. But in taking sole credit for this, Trump ignores that projected costs for the F-35 had been dropping for years, and the Pentagon had worked on lowering the price tag under past administrations.

TRUMP: Now if you multiply that times 3,000 planes, you know this is on 90 planes. In fact, when the Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe of Japan came in because they bought a certain number of those … The first thing he said to me, because it was right at the time I did it, he said, “Could I thank you?” I said, “What?” He said, “You saved us $100 million.” Because they got a $100 million savings on the 10 or 12 planes that they (bought). Nobody wrote that story. Now you know that’s a saving of billions and billions of dollars, many billions of dollars over the course of — it’s between 2,500 and 3,000 planes will be the final order. But this was only 90 of those 2,500 planes.

AP: And you expect those savings to carry out across that full order?

TRUMP: More. I’m gonna get more than that. This was a thing that was out of control and now it’s great. And the woman that runs Lockheed, Marillyn (Hewson), she was great. But all of a sudden it was a different kind of a thing. You know?

He’s starting to get incoherent. Because ADD.

AP: Do you feel like you’ve been able to apply that kind of a relationship to your dealings with Congress as well?

TRUMP: I have great relationships with Congress. I think we’re doing very well and I think we have a great foundation for future things. We’re going to be applying, I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’re going to be announcing, probably on Wednesday, tax reform. And it’s — we’ve worked on it long and hard. And you’ve got to understand, I’ve only been here now 93 days, 92 days. President Obama took 17 months to do Obamacare. I’ve been here 92 days but I’ve only been working on the health care, you know I had to get like a little bit of grounding right? Health care started after 30 day(s), so I’ve been working on health care for 60 days. …You know, we’re very close. And it’s a great plan, you know, we have to get it approved.

“I probably shouldn’t be tell you this” and then he tells.  Talks about tax reform then shifts to Obamacare. He’s always said he needs to healthcare first because it is, like, 20% of the economy, and he hasn’t done it yet, but he’s going to announce tax reform on Wednesday?

I think announcing what they intend to do is thought of as a “win” by this White House.

AP: Is it this deal that’s between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus, is that the deal you’re looking at?

TRUMP: So the Republican Party has various groups, all great people. They’re great people. But some are moderate, some are very conservative. The Democrats don’t seem to have that nearly as much. You know the Democrats have, they don’t have that. The Republicans do have that. And I think it’s fine. But you know there’s a pretty vast area in there. And I have a great relationship with all of them. Now, we have government not closing. I think we’ll be in great shape on that. It’s going very well. Obviously, that takes precedent.

Someone wrote a great article about how Trump learns things, and then he passes it on to others, as if they don’t already know — when in fact, Trump is often the last to know.  Because he is stupid.  This is a great example — Trump explaining the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

AP: That takes precedent over health care? For next week?

TRUMP: Yeah, sure. Next week. Because the hundred days is just an artificial barrier. The press keeps talking about the hundred days. But we’ve done a lot. You have a list of things. I don’t have to read it.

I’m hardly the first to point this out, but the Trump campaign was ALL OVER the “first 100 days” thing.

AP: You did put out though, as a candidate, you put out a 100-day plan. Do you feel like you should be held accountable to that plan?

TRUMP: Somebody, yeah, somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan. But yeah. Well, I’m mostly there on most items. Go over the items, and I’ll talk to you …

No, he’s not “mostly there”.

(Crosstalk.)

TRUMP: But things change. There has to be flexibility. Let me give you an example. President Xi, we have a, like, a really great relationship. For me to call him a currency manipulator and then say, “By the way, I’d like you to solve the North Korean problem,” doesn’t work. So you have to have a certain flexibility, Number One. Number Two, from the time I took office till now, you know, it’s a very exact thing. It’s not like generalities. Do you want a Coke or anything?

AP: I’m OK, thank you. No. …

TRUMP: But President Xi, from the time I took office, he has not, they have not been currency manipulators. Because there’s a certain respect because he knew I would do something or whatever. But more importantly than him not being a currency manipulator the bigger picture, bigger than even currency manipulation, if he’s helping us with North Korea, with nuclear and all of the things that go along with it, who would call, what am I going to do, say, “By the way, would you help us with North Korea? And also, you’re a currency manipulator.” It doesn’t work that way.

AP: Right.

So… China is not a currency manipulator because it is helping with North Korea.  Which makes no sense.  What Trump is actually saying is that he’s not going to CALL China a currency manipulator in exchange for them helping with North Korea. Trump wants credit for using the “currency manipulator” as a bargaining chip, without admitting that it was merely a bargaining chip.

TRUMP: And the media, some of them get it, in all fairness. But you know some of them either don’t get it, in which case they’re very stupid people, or they just don’t want to say it. You know because of a couple of them said, “He didn’t call them a currency manipulator.” Well, for two reasons. Number One, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have — they’ve actually — their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula. And I said, “How badly have they been,” … they said, “Since you got to office they have not manipulated their currency.” That’s Number One, but much more important, they are working with us on North Korea. Now maybe that’ll work out or maybe it won’t. Can you imagine? …

Uh….what?????

AP: So in terms of the 100-day plan that you did put out during the campaign, do you feel, though, that people should hold you accountable to this in terms of judging success?

TRUMP: No, because much of the foundation’s been laid. Things came up. I’ll give you an example. I didn’t put Supreme Court judge on the 100 (day) plan, and I got a Supreme Court judge.

AP: I think it’s on there.

TRUMP: I don’t know. …

It is.

AP: “Begin the process of selecting.” You actually exceeded on this one. This says, “Begin the process of selecting a replacement.”

TRUMP: That’s the biggest thing I’ve done.

AP: Do you consider that your biggest success?

TRUMP: Well, I — first of all I think he’s a great man. I think he will be a great, great justice of the Supreme Court. I have always heard that the selection and the affirmation of a Supreme Court judge is the biggest thing a president can do. Don’t forget, he could be there for 40 years. … He’s a young man. I’ve always heard that that’s the biggest thing. Now, I would say that defense is the biggest thing. You know, to be honest, there are a number of things. But I’ve always heard that the highest calling is the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. I’ve done one in my first 70 days.

To be honest, you had very little to do with that, Donald. You just named a name off a list given you. The Constitution and Republicans in Congress did the rest.

TRUMP: Our military is so proud. They were not proud at all. They had their heads down. Now they have their heads up. …

TRUMP: I’m rebuilding the military. We have great people. We have great things in place. We have tremendous borders. I mention the F-35 because if I can save $725 million — look at that, that’s a massive amount of money. And I’ll save more as we make more planes. If I can save that on a small number of planes — Gen. (Jim) Mattis (the defense secretary) said, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” because he had to sign the ultimate (unintelligible) … He had to sign the ultimate, you know. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before, as long as I’ve been in the military.” You know, that kind of cutting.

AP: Right.

TRUMP: Now, if I can do that (unintelligible) … As an example, the aircraft carriers, billions of dollars, the Gerald Ford, billions and billions over budget. That won’t happen.

AP: Is that something you’re going to take on?

TRUMP: (unintelligible) But as we order the other ones, because they want to order 12, the other ones are going to come in much less expensive. …

No, nobody gets what he talking about either.

AP: Can I ask you, over your first 100 days — you’re not quite there yet — how do you feel like the office has changed you?

TRUMP: Well the one thing I would say — and I say this to people — I never realized how big it was. Everything’s so (unintelligible) like, you know the orders are so massive. I was talking to —

AP: You mean the responsibility of it, or do you mean —

TRUMP: Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that’s involved,” because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away — and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet …. every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. (unintelligible) … This is involving death and life and so many things. … So it’s far more responsibility. (unintelligible) ….The financial cost of everything is so massive, every agency. This is thousands of times bigger, the United States, than the biggest company in the world. The second-largest company in the world is the Defense Department. The third-largest company in the world is Social Security. The fourth-largest — you know, you go down the list.

AP: Right.

Trump realizes that the United States is bigger than a company.  YES, THAT’S WHY IT CAN’T BE RUN LIKE A BUSINESS!!

TRUMP. It’s massive. And every agency is, like, bigger than any company. So you know, I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility. You know, the human life that’s involved in some of the decisions.

Just now, he gets it.  Look, I know there is a learning curve to being president.  But Trump is on the learning curve to being an informed citizen.

AP: You’ve talked a little bit about the way that you’ve brought some business skills into the office. Is there anything from your business background that just doesn’t translate into the presidency, that just simply is not applicable to this job?

TRUMP: Well in business, you don’t necessarily need heart, whereas here, almost everything affects people. So if you’re talking about health care — you have health care in business but you’re trying to just negotiate a good price on health care, et cetera, et cetera. You’re providing health. This is (unintelligible). Here, everything, pretty much everything you do in government, involves heart, whereas in business, most things don’t involve heart.

AP: What’s that switch been like for you?

TRUMP: In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.

AP: What’s making that switch been like for you?

TRUMP: You have to love people. And if you love people, such a big responsibility. (unintelligible) You can take any single thing, including even taxes. I mean we’re going to be doing major tax reform. Here’s part of your story, it’s going to be a big (unintelligible). Everybody’s saying, “Oh, he’s delaying.” I’m not delaying anything. I’ll tell you the other thing is (unintelligible). I used to get great press. I get the worst press. I get such dishonest reporting with the media. That’s another thing that really has — I’ve never had anything like it before. It happened during the primaries, and I said, you know, when I won, I said, “Well the one thing good is now I’ll get good press.” And it got worse. (unintelligible) So that was one thing that a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought the press would become better, and it actually, in my opinion, got more nasty.

It’s about heart? No, it’s about him. A psychologist could write a thesis just on that paragraph.

AP: But in terms of tax reform, how are you going to roll that out next week?

TRUMP: Well I’m going to roll (out) probably on Wednesday, around Wednesday of next week, we’re putting out a massive tax reform — business and for people — we want to do both. We’ve been working on it (unintelligible). Secretary Mnuchin is a very talented person, very smart. Very successful (unintelligible). … We’re going to be putting that out on Wednesday or shortly thereafter. Let me leave a little room just in case (unintelligible). … And that’s a big story, because a lot of people think I’m going to put it out much later.

AP: Do you have any details on that in terms of rates?

TRUMP: Only in terms that it will be a massive tax cut. It will be bigger, I believe, than any tax cut ever. Maybe the biggest tax cut we’ve ever had. …

For the upper class, maybe.

AP: Obviously, that’s going to come in a week where you’re going to be running up against the deadline for keeping the government open. If you get a bill on your desk that does not include funding for the wall, will you sign it?

TRUMP: I don’t know yet. People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I’ve always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the electoral college. The electoral college — but it’s a whole different campaign (unintelligible). The electoral college is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall, they want to see security. Now, it just came out that they’re 73 percent down. … That’s a tremendous achievement. … Look at this, in 100 days, that down to the lowest in 17 years and it’s going lower. Now, people aren’t coming because they know they’re not going to get through, and there isn’t crime. You know the migration up to the border is horrible for women, you know that? (Unintelligible.) Now, much of that’s stopped because they can’t get through.

Okay, first of all, if he thinks his “base” is 45 percent, then he must not know what a “base” means.  A “base” are the people who won’t leave you, and that means he should never drop below 45% approval.  He’s below that.

It’s hard to tell what he means by “they’re 73 percent down”, but he appears to be talking about the decrease in immigration, which was happening long before he took office.  Which actually is an argument AGAINST the wall, but… whatever.

AP: It sounds like maybe you’re beginning to send a message that if you do get a spending bill that doesn’t have border funding in there, you would sign it.

TRUMP: Well, first of all, the wall will cost much less than the numbers I’m seeing. I’m seeing numbers, I mean, this wall is not going to be that expensive.

AP: What do you think the estimate on it would be?

TRUMP: Oh I’m seeing numbers — $24 billion, I think I’ll do it for $10 billion or less. That’s not a lot of money relative to what we’re talking about. If we stop 1 percent of the drugs from coming in — and we’ll stop all of it. But if we stop 1 percent of the drugs because we have the wall — they’re coming around in certain areas, but if you have a wall, they can’t do it because it’s a real wall. That’s a tremendously good investment, 1 percent. The drugs pouring through on the southern border are unbelievable. We’re becoming a drug culture, there’s so much. And most of it’s coming from the southern border. The wall will stop the drugs.

AP: But, just trying to nail you down on it one more time, will you sign a spending bill if it doesn’t have —

TRUMP: I don’t want to comment. I just don’t know yet. I mean, I have to see what’s going on. I really do. But the wall’s a very important thing to — not only my base, but to the people. And even if it wasn’t, I mean I’ll do things that aren’t necessarily popular. … The wall is very important to stopping drugs.

AP: If you don’t have a funding stream, your message to your base is what?

TRUMP: My base understands the wall is going to get built, whether I have it funded here or if I get it funded shortly thereafter, that wall’s getting built, OK? One hundred percent. One hundred percent it’s getting built. And it’s also getting built for much less money — I hope you get this — than these people are estimating. The opponents are talking $25 billion for the wall. It’s not going to cost anywhere near that.

AP: You think $10 billion or less.

TRUMP: I think $10 billion or less. And if I do a super-duper, higher, better, better security, everything else, maybe it goes a little bit more. But it’s not going to be anywhere near (those) kind of numbers. And they’re using those numbers; they’re using the high numbers to make it sound impalatable (sic). And the fact it’s going to cost much less money, just like the airplane I told you about, which I hope you can write about.

This is just lies.  Like his campaign promises.

___

(Off-the-record discussion.)

___

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

TRUMP: They had a quote from me that NATO’s obsolete. But they didn’t say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, “And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.” You know, back when they did NATO there was no such thing as terrorism.

AP: What specifically has NATO changed?

TRUMP: (Cites Wall Street Journal article) … I did an interview with Wolf Blitzer, and I said NATO was obsolete — I said two things — obsolete, and the country’s aren’t paying. I was right about both. I took such heat for about three days on both, because nobody ever criticized NATO. I took heat like you wouldn’t believe. And then some expert on NATO said, “You know, Trump is right.” But I said it was obsolete because they weren’t focused on terror. …

It’s not fair that we’re paying close to 4 percent and other countries that are more directly affected are paying 1 percent when they’re supposed to be paying 2 percent. And I’m very strong on it and I’m going to be very strong on it when I go there in a month.”

So he said, while “not knowing much about NATO”, that it was obsolete. No he knows much about NATO, and he thinks it is not obsolete.  And, here’s the kicker — HE WAS RIGHT BOTH TIMES!

AP: This morning you tweeted that after the possible terrorist attack in Paris, that it will have a big effect on the upcoming French election. What did you mean by that?

TRUMP: Well, I think it will have a big effect on who people are going to vote for in the election.

AP: Do you think it’s going to help Marine Le Pen?

TRUMP: I think so.

AP: Do you believe that she should be the president?

TRUMP: No, I have no comment on that, but I think that it’ll probably help her because she is the strongest on borders and she is the strongest on what’s been going on in France.

AP: Do you worry at all that by saying that, that a terrorist attack would have an impact on a democratic election, that it would actually embolden terrorists to try to —.

TRUMP: No. Look, everybody is making predictions who is going to win. I am no different than you, you could say the same thing. …

AP: I just wonder if you are encouraging, you are the president of the United States, so to say that you worry that it encourages terrorists …

TRUMP: No, I am no different than — no, I think it discourages terrorists, I think it discourages. I think what we’ve done on the border discourages it. I think that my stance on having people come in to this country that we have no idea who they are and in certain cases you will have radical Islamic terrorism. I’m not going to have it in this country. I’m not going to let what happened to France and other places happen here. And it’s already largely, you know — we have tens — we have hundreds of thousands of people that have been allowed into our country that should not be here. They shouldn’t be here. We have people allowed into our country with no documentation whatsoever. They have no documentation and they were allowed under the previous administrations, they were allowed into our country. It’s a big mistake.

AP: Just so that I am clear. You are not endorsing her for the office, but you are —

TRUMP: I am not endorsing her and I didn’t mention her name.

AP: Right, I just wanted to make sure I have that clear.

Yes, it’s clear.

TRUMP: I believe whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well at the election. I am not saying that person is going to win, she is not even favored to win, you know. Right now, she is in second place.

___

AP: I have a question on the markets, actually. One thing that I think has been different about this White House is that you do point to the markets as a sign of progress. Do you worry, though — I mean, the markets go up and down.

TRUMP: You live by the sword, you die by the sword, to a certain extent. But we create a lot of jobs, 500,000 jobs as of two months ago, and plenty created since. Five hundred thousand. … As an example, Ford, General Motors. I’ve had cases where the gentleman from China, Ma, Jack Ma (chairman of Alibaba Group), he comes up, he says, “Only because of you am I making this massive investment.” Intel, only because of you. … The press never writes that.

America First?

The 500,000 number is an exaggeration. The United States created a combined 317,000 nonfarm jobs in February and March, Trump’s first two full months in office for which data is available.

Perhaps Trump is including January, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 216,000 new jobs. But he came into office at the end of the month.

Trump has a history of questioning Bureau of Labor Statistics data and misrepresenting how their employment calculations work.

 

AP: What about NAFTA? What’s the plan on NAFTA?

TRUMP: What would you like to know?

AP: I would like to know what your plan is in terms of renegotiating.

TRUMP: I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States, trading agreement for the United States. It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico. Most people don’t even think of NAFTA in terms of Canada. You saw what happened yesterday in my statements, because if you look at the dairy farmers in Wisconsin and upstate New York, they are getting killed by NAFTA.

AP: Is your plan still, though, to renegotiate the whole deal?

TRUMP: I am going to either renegotiate it or I am going to terminate it.

AP: Termination is still on the table.

TRUMP: Absolutely. If they don’t treat fairly, I am terminating NAFTA.

AP: What’s a timeline for that decision?

TRUMP: It’s a six-month termination clause, I have the right to do it, it’s a six-month clause.

AP: If I could fit a couple of more topics. Jeff Sessions, your attorney general, is taking a tougher line suddenly on Julian Assange, saying that arresting him is a priority. You were supportive of what WikiLeaks was doing during the campaign with the release of the Clinton emails. Do you think that arresting Assange is a priority for the United States?

TRUMP: When Wikileaks came out … never heard of Wikileaks, never heard of it. When Wikileaks came out, all I was just saying is, “Well, look at all this information here, this is pretty good stuff.” You know, they tried to hack the Republican, the RNC, but we had good defenses. They didn’t have defenses, which is pretty bad management. But we had good defenses, they tried to hack both of them. They weren’t able to get through to Republicans. No, I found it very interesting when I read this stuff and I said, “Wow.” It was just a figure of speech. I said, “Well, look at this. It’s good reading.”

AP: But that didn’t mean that you supported what Assange is doing?

TRUMP: No, I don’t support or unsupport. It was just information. They shouldn’t have allowed it to get out. If they had the proper defensive devices on their internet, you know, equipment, they wouldn’t even allow the FBI. How about this — they get hacked, and the FBI goes to see them, and they won’t let the FBI see their server. But do you understand, nobody ever writes it. Why wouldn’t (former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John) Podesta and Hillary Clinton allow the FBI to see the server? They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based.

AP: CrowdStrike?

TRUMP: That’s what I heard. I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian, that’s what I heard. But they brought in another company to investigate the server. Why didn’t they allow the FBI in to investigate the server? I mean, there is so many things that nobody writes about. It’s incredible.

AP: Can I just ask you, though — do you believe it is a priority for the United States, or it should be a priority, to arrest Julian Assange?

TRUMP: I am not involved in that decision, but if Jeff Sessions wants to do it, it’s OK with me. I didn’t know about that decision, but if they want to do it, it’s OK with me.

___

AP: On Iran, which is another thing you talked a lot on the campaign —

TRUMP: And the other thing that we should go after is the leakers. …

AP: On Iran, you also talked about it quite a bit on the campaign trail. And you said in the press conference yesterday that you think that Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement. When you say that, do you mean in terms of the actual nuclear accord, or do you mean what they are doing in the region?

TRUMP: In terms of what they are doing all over the Middle East and beyond.

AP: So you believe that they are complying with the agreement?

TRUMP: No, I don’t say that. I say that I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement. There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.

AP: In terms of what they are doing elsewhere in the Middle East?

TRUMP: In terms of what they are doing of all over.

AP: When you talk to European leaders, when you talk to Merkel, for example, or Teresa May, what do they say about the nuclear deal? Do they want you to stay in that deal?

TRUMP: I don’t talk to them about it.

AP: You don’t talk to them about the Iran deal?

TRUMP: I mention it, but it’s very personal when I talk to them, you know, it’s confidential. No, they have their own opinions. I don’t say that they are different than my opinions, but I’d rather have you ask them that question.

AP: At this point, do you believe that you will stay in the nuclear deal?

TRUMP: It’s possible that we won’t.

___

AP: Dreamers, you’ve talked about them, you’ve talked about heart earlier. This is one area where you have talked —

TRUMP: No, we aren’t looking to do anything right now. Look, the dreamers … this is an interesting case, they left and they came back and he’s got some problems, it’s a little different than the dreamer case, right? But we are putting MS-13 in jail and getting them the hell out of our country. They’ve taken over towns and cities and we are being really brutal with MS-13, and that’s what we should be. They are a bad group, and somebody said they are as bad as al-Qaida, which is a hell of a reference. So we are moving criminals out of our country and we are getting them out in record numbers and those are the people we are after. We are not after the dreamers, we are after the criminals.

AP: And that’s going to be the policy of your administration to allow the dreamers to stay?

TRUMP: Yes. Yes. That’s our policy. I am not saying … long-term, we are going to have to fix the problem, the whole immigration problem. But I will tell you: Right now we have a great gentleman, one of my real stars is Gen. (John) Kelly, now (Homeland Security) Secretary Kelly. We are down 73 percent at the border, we are cleaning out cities and towns of hard-line criminals, some of the worst people on earth, people that rape and kill women, people that are killing people just for the sake of having fun. They are being thrown in jails and they are being … all over the country and nobody’s ever done it like us, so we are being unbelievably thorough with that. We are out in Long Island cleaning out the MS-13 scum, they are all scum, that’s probably the worst gang anywhere on Earth. …

AP: A lot of the dreamers have been hoping to hear something from you. I don’t want to give them the wrong message with this.

TRUMP: Here is what they can hear: The dreamers should rest easy. OK? I’ll give you that. The dreamers should rest easy. …

___

(An aide talks about the president’s address to Congress.)

TRUMP: A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber.

AP: You seem like you enjoyed it.

TRUMP: I did. I did. I believed in it and I enjoyed it. It was a great feeling to introduce the wife of a great young soldier who died getting us very valuable information. Have you seen the tremendous success? … That’s another thing that nobody talks about. Have you seen the tremendous success we’ve had in the Middle East with the ISIS (an abbreviation for the Islamic State group)? When (current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al) Abadi left from Iraq, he said Trump has more success in eight weeks than Obama had in eight years. … We have had tremendous success, but we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it.

AP: Do you mean you don’t talk about it personally because you don’t want to talk about it?

TRUMP: I don’t talk about it. No. And the generals don’t talk about it.

___

AP: You had put a request into the Pentagon to put forward an ISIS plan within 30 days. I know they have sent that over. Have you accepted a plan? Are you moving forward on a strategy?

TRUMP: We have a very strong plan, but we cannot talk about it, Julie.

AP: So you have decided on a plan?

TRUMP: Remember how many times have you been to the speech where I talked about Mosul.

AP: Right.

TRUMP. Right. Mosul. Four months we are going in, three months. We are still fighting Mosul. You know why? Because they were prepared. If we would have gone in and just done it, it would have been over three months ago.

AP: Can you say generally what the strategy is? Should people —

TRUMP: Generally is we have got to get rid of ISIS. We have no choice. And other terrorist organizations.

AP: Should Americans who are serving in the military expect that you are going to increase troop numbers in the Middle East to fight ISIS?

TRUMP: No, not much.

AP: In terms of the strategy, though, that you have accepted, it sounds like, from the generals —

TRUMP: Well, they’ve also accepted my strategy.

AP: Does that involve more troops on the ground, it sounds like?

TRUMP: Not many.

AP: So a small increase?

TRUMP: It could be an increase, then an increase. But not many more. I want to do the job, but not many more. … This is an important story. I’ve done a lot. I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days and I think the first 100 days is an artificial barrier. And I’m scheduled … the foundations have been set to do some great things. With foreign countries. Look at, look at President Xi. I mean …

More than any other president in the first 100 days?  Maybe he’s learned more (like how big government is), but that’s only because he started off stupider.

That said, Trump’s claim is False.

Trump has had some achievements in office, such as signing 28 bills and numerous executive orders, filling a Supreme Court seat, and overseeing a drop in border apprehensions. But those achievements are much less numerous and far-reaching than those of standard-bearer President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed 73 bills, greatly expanded the role of the federal government, and revived the banking system from collapse, all in his first 100 days.

In more recent years, other presidents have accomplished more in their first 100 days than Trump has, historians say. President Barack Obama, for example, signed not only a nearly $800 billion stimulus package to combat a spiraling recession but also the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a law expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

AP: What do you think it was about your chemistry?

TRUMP: We had good chemistry. Now I don’t know that I think that’s going to produce results but you’ve got a good chance.

AP: Uh-huh.

TRUMP: Look, he turned down many coal ships. These massive coal ships are coming where they get a lot of their income. They’re coming into China and they’re being turned away. That’s never happened before. The fuel, the oil, so many different things. You saw the editorial they had in their paper saying they cannot be allowed to have nuclear, you know, et cetera. People have said they’ve never seen this ever before in China. We have the same relationship with others. There’s a great foundation that’s built. Great foundation. And I think it’s going to produce tremendous results for our country.

___

AP: One more 100 days question.

TRUMP: That’s fine.

AP: … is do you think you have the right team in place for your next 100 days?

TRUMP: Yes. I think my team has been, well, I have different teams. I think my military team has been treated with great respect. As they should be. I think my other team hasn’t been treated with the respect that they should get. We have some very talented people, and very diverse people.

AP: Do you mean your White House team when you say that?

TRUMP: Yeah, my White House team. I think Reince (Priebus) has been doing an excellent job. I think that, you know, this is a very tough environment not caused necessarily by me. Although the election has, you know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the electoral college, as I said, is so skewed to them. You start off by losing in New York and California, no matter who it is. If, if Abe Lincoln came back to life, he would lose New York and he would lose California. It’s just the registration, there’s nothing you can do. So you’re losing the two biggest states, that’s where you start. OK. The Electoral College is so skewed in favor of a Democrat that it’s very, very hard. Look at Obama’s number in the Electoral College. His numbers on the win were … but the Electoral College numbers were massive. You lose New York, you lose Illinois. Illinois is impossible to win. And you look at, so now you lose New York, Illinois, no matter what you do, and California. Right. And you say, man. Now you have to win Florida, you have to win Ohio, you have to win North Carolina. You have to win all these states, and then I won Wisconsin and Michigan and all of these other places, but you remember there was no way to, there was no way to 270.

AP: Right.

TRUMP: So she had this massive advantage, she spent hundreds of millions of dollars more money than I spent. Hundreds of millions … Yeah. Or more, actually because we were $375 she was at $2.2 billion. But whatever. She spent massive amounts of money more and she lost. Solidly lost, because you know it wasn’t 270, it was 306. So there’s anger. But there was massive anger before I got there, so it’s not easy for a White House staff to realize that you are going into a situation where you are going to be at no, where are going to get no votes. I mean, here’s a judge who is No. 1 at Columbia, No. 1 at Harvard and an Oxford scholar. And he got three votes.

AP: Three Democratic votes, but yeah.

TRUMP: Three Democratic votes. OK. He’s an Oxford scholar at the highest level. The No. 1, you know, one of the great academics, one of the great writers. No bad decisions with all … nothing. He’s like a …

AP: Do you think that you can break through that? I mean this —

TRUMP: Yeah, I do.

AP: Is one of the biggest challenges for a president.

TRUMP: I think (I) can to an extent. But there’s a, there’s a basic hard-line core that you can’t break though, OK, that you can’t break through. There’s a hard-line group you can’t break through, you can’t. It’s sad. You can’t. Look, I met with Congressman Cummings and I really liked him, a lot. Elijah Cummings (of Maryland). I really liked him a lot. And during the conversation because we have a very strong mutual feeling on drug prices. He came to see me, at my invitation, because I saw him talking about, he came to see me about drug prices because drug prices are ridiculous. And I am going to get them way, way, way down and he liked that. He said you will be the greatest president. He said you will be, in front of five, six people, he said you will be the greatest president in the history of this country.

AP: He disputed that slightly.

TRUMP: That’s what he said. I mean, what can I tell you?

AP: Yeah.

TRUMP: There’s six people sitting here. What did he, what, what do you mean by slightly?

AP: He said, he said that he felt like you could be a great president if and then —

TRUMP: Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.

___

AP: And that’s one of the difficulties I think presidents have had is that you can have these personal relationships with people from the other party, but then it’s hard to actually change how people vote or change how people —

TRUMP: No I have, it’s interesting, I have, seem to get very high ratings. I definitely. You know Chris Wallace had 9.2 million people, it’s the highest in the history of the show. I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple. Chris Wallace, look back during the Army-Navy football game, I did his show that morning.

Oh, God.  Ratings.

AP: I remember, right.

TRUMP: It had 9.2 million people. It’s the highest they’ve ever had. On any, on air, (CBS “Face the Nation” host John) Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It’s the highest for “Face the Nation” or as I call it, “Deface the Nation.” It’s the highest for “Deface the Nation” since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It’s a tremendous advantage.

I have learned one thing, because I get treated very unfairly, that’s what I call it, the fake media. And the fake media is not all of the media. You know they tried to say that the fake media was all the, no. The fake media is some of you. I could tell you who it is, 100 percent. Sometimes you’re fake, but — but the fake media is some of the media. It bears no relationship to the truth. It’s not that Fox treats me well, it’s that Fox is the most accurate.

AP: Do you believe that? That Fox —

TRUMP: I do. I get treated so badly. Yesterday, about the thing, you know when I said it’s a terrorism … it may be. I said it may be a terrorist attack and MSNBC, I heard, went crazy, “He called it a terrorist attack.” They thought it was a bank robbery. By the way, I’m 10-0 for that. I’ve called every one of them. Every time they said I called it way too early and then it turns out I’m … Whatever. Whatever. In the meantime, I’m here and they’re not.

___

AP: Do you feel that one of the things with cable is there’s such real-time reaction with everything you say?

TRUMP: Yeah.

AP: Can you separate that sometimes from that actual decision?

TRUMP: The one thing —

AP: That you have to do —

TRUMP: OK. The one thing I’ve learned to do that I never thought I had the ability to do. I don’t watch CNN anymore.

AP: You just said you did.

TRUMP: No. No, I, if I’m passing it, what did I just say (inaudible)?

AP: You just said —

TRUMP: Where? Where?

AP: Two minutes ago.

TRUMP: No, they treat me so badly. No, I just said that. No, I, what’d I say, I stopped watching them. But I don’t watch CNN anymore. I don’t watch MSNBC. I don’t watch it. Now I heard yesterday that MSNBC, you know, they tell me what’s going on.

AP: Right.

TRUMP: In fact, they also did. I never thought I had the ability to not watch. Like, people think I watch (MSNBC’s) “Morning Joe.” I don’t watch “Morning Joe.” I never thought I had the ability to, and who used to treat me great by the way, when I played the game. I never thought I had the ability to not watch what is unpleasant, if it’s about me. Or pleasant. But when I see it’s such false reporting and such bad reporting and false reporting that I’ve developed an ability that I never thought I had. I don’t watch things that are unpleasant. I just don’t watch them.

AP: And do you feel like that’s, that’s because of the office that you now occupy —

TRUMP: No.

AP: That you’ve made that change?

TRUMP: I don’t know why it is, but I’ve developed that ability, and it’s happened over the last, over the last year.

AP: That’s interesting.

TRUMP: And I don’t watch things that I know are going to be unpleasant. CNN has covered me unfairly and incorrectly and I don’t watch them anymore. A lot of people don’t watch them anymore, they’re now in third place. But I’ve created something where people are watching … but I don’t watch CNN anymore. I don’t watch MSNBC anymore. I don’t watch things, and I never thought I had that ability. I always thought I’d watch.

AP: Sure.

TRUMP: I just don’t. And that’s taken place over the last year. And you know what that is, that’s a great, it’s a great thing because you leave, you leave for work in the morning you know, you’re, you don’t watch this total negativity. I never thought I’d be able to do that and for me, it’s so easy to do now. Just don’t watch.

AP: That’s interesting.

TRUMP: Maybe it’s because I’m here. I don’t know.

This last bit is very revealing.  This is how presidents get into trouble – by surrounding himself with “yes” men, and in Trump’s case, “yes” news.  This very dangerous groupthink often has disastrous results for the country.

Trump’s Elements Of Style

TRUMP’S ELEMENTS OF STYLE

by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras of Mscsweeney’s

Strunk Rule: Omit needless words
Trump Rule: No word is needless. They’re all great! Terrific! They’re fantastic words! I know about fantastic words!

On Day One, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall. We will use the best technology, including above- and below-ground sensors. That’s the tunnels. Remember that. Above and below. Above- and below-ground sensors, towers, aerial surveillance and manpower to supplement the wall, find and dislocate tunnels and keep out criminal cartels and Mexico, you know that, will work with us.
speech, 8/31/16

Strunk rule: Place yourself in the background.
Trump rule: Background?

I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.
interview, Sean Hannity, 4/13/16

I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world. Nobody knows more about taxes.
interview, AP 5/13/16

I know more about ISIS [the Islamic State militant group] than the generals do. Believe me.
speech, 11/12/15

There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.
speech, 6/15/16

I know more about Cory [Booker] than he knows about himself.
tweet, 7/25/16

Strunk Rule: Avoid using dialect.
Trump Rule: Make dialect great again!

When these people [Asians] walk into the room, they don’t say, “Oh hello, how’s the weather? It’s so beautiful outside. How are the Yankees doing?”They’re doing wonderful, that’s great.’ They say, “We want deal!”
8/26/15, during a campaign event in Iowa

Strunk Rule: Don’t overstate.
Trump Rule: Tell the truth about your great, great relationships with the [fill in the blank]. They love you!

I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.
TALK1300 radio interview, 4/14/11

I have a great relationship the Mexican people. I love them, they love me!
MSBNC interview, 7/8/15

I have a great relationship with the people of Scotland and an unbelievably good relationship with the people of Aberdeen.
press conference 6/8/15

I love Neil Young. And he loves me! We have a great relationship.
in a Bloomberg interview after Young asked him to stop using his music as part of the campaign, 6/15

Strunk rule: Put statements in a positive form.
Trump rule: Sometimes you can be positively negative! Or negatively positive! Or both! Truth!

@ariannahuff is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man — he made a good decision.
tweet, 8/28/12

While @BetteMidler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.
tweet, 10/29/12

Rosie is crude, rude, obnoxious and dumb — other than that I like her very much!
tweet, 7/11/14

Strunk Rule: Use orthodox spelling
Trump Rule: If Shakespeare (who is doing a terrific job) can spell things his way, so can you.

Wow, the highly respected Governor of Iowa just stated that “Ted Cruz must be defeated.” Big shoker! People do not like Ted.
tweet, 1/19/16

Lying Ted Cruz and leightweight chocker Marco Rubio teamed up last night in a last ditch effort to stop our great movement. They failed!
tweet, 2/26/16

I am honered to serve you, the great American People, as your 45th President of the United States!
tweet, 1/21/17

Strunk rule: Use figures of speech sparingly
Trump rule: A good metaphor is as beautiful as someone’s not-tiny shapely hands!

I have read a lot about it and I watched it and Liberty University, like a rocket ship, a really great rocket ship.
speech at Liberty University, 1/18/15

On gay marriage: It’s like in golf. A lot of people — I don’t want this to sound trivial — but a lot of people are switching to these really long putters, very unattractive. It’s weird. You see these great players with these really long putters, because they can’t sink three-footers anymore. And, I hate it. I am a traditionalist. I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist.
interview, New York Times, 5/2/11

Strunk rule: The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.
Trump rule: Too complicated! Use whatever tense you want!

You know what uranium is, right? It’s a thing called nuclear weapons and other things like lots of things are done with uranium including some bad things.
press conference, 2/16/17

And speaking of tenses, present, future, past? Who cares?

Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.
at an African American History Month event, 2/2/17

ANDERSON COOPER: “Did you use that $960 million loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes?”
TRUMP: “Of course I do. Of course I do.”
presidential debate, 10/10/16

Strunk Rule: Avoid fancy words
Trump Rule: I have the best fancy words. So fancy that no one else knows them!

I wrote The Art of the Deal; I say that not in a braggadocious way
presidential debate, 9/26/16

China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.
tweet, 12/17/16

Strunk Rule: Avoid repetition
Trump Rule: What’s the problem with repetition, when you repeat something?

You know what a diplomat is? That’s a person that studies to be nice. In other words, they study to be nice.
interview, CNBC’s The Kudlow Report, 3/18/11

That’s wrong. They were wrong. It’s The New York Times, they’re always wrong. They were wrong.
Republican debate, 1/14/16

But when you look at this tremendous sea of love — I call it a “sea of love”…
interview, ABC, describing a framed photograph of his inauguration crowd, 1/25/17

Strunk Rule: Avoid the use of qualifiers.
Trump Rule: Qualifiers are beautiful. Very beautiful!

These are the most beautiful phones I’ve ever used in my life.
interview, New York Times, 1/27/17

We’re going to have beautiful clean coal.
CPAC address, 2/24/16

We’re going to have a very, very elegant day, The 20th is going to be something that will be very, very special, very beautiful.
tweet, 1/18/17

What I like is build a safe zone in Syria. Build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live…
campaign rally, 2/13/17

Qualifiers are also tremendous!:

I have a tremendous income.
presidential debate, 9/26/16

I pay tremendous numbers of taxes
presidential debate, 10/9/16

I have had tremendous success.
interview, ABC News, 7/30/16

I am worth a tremendous amount of money
interview, CNN 6/26/15

Strunk rule: Do not inject opinions. Opinions scattered indiscriminately about leave the mark of egotism on a work.
Trump rule: Who are you calling an egotist?! My opinions are facts, unlike the FAKE news. Share!

@frankluntz works really hard but is a guy who just doesn’t have it — a total loser!
tweet, 8/3/14

@cher attacked @mittromney. She is an average talent who is out of touch with reality. Like @rosieo’donnell, a total loser.
tweet, 5/10/12

I don’t cheat at golf but SamuelLJackson cheats — with his game he has no choice — and stop doing commercials! Don’t like SamuelLJackson’s golf swing. Not athletic. I’ve won many club championships. Play him for charity!
tweet, 1/5/16

Strunk rule: Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end
Trump rule: And add an exclamation point! Great!

Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!
tweet, 12/31/16

Recommended Reading

I guess it is not a surprise, but Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker reports that Trump advisers turned the White House upside-down looking for information to justify Trump’s crazy “Obama spied on me” tweet. Key graf:

The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

This isn’t mere buffoonery.  This could have created serious intel problems:

Some American intelligence officials are now concerned that Trump and Nunes’s wild claims about intercepts and Rice have made Section 702 look like a rogue program that can be easily abused for political purposes. The intelligence source said, “In defense of the President, Devin Nunes and some other partisans have created a huge political problem by casting doubt, in the service of Donald Trump, on these intercepts.” Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, a leading critic of Section 702, has been using the episode to rally libertarians. He recently tweeted, “Smoking gun found! Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to have been spying on Trump campaign.” Democratic critics of Section 702 have also been emboldened. “Section 702 of FISA allows warrantless searches on Americans. That’s unconstitutional & must be changed,” Representative Ted Lieu, the Democrat from California, tweeted last month, during the controversy.

“They manufactured a scandal to distract from a serious investigation,” Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, who would not comment on the N.S.A. documents, said. “And the collateral damage is the public confidence in our intelligence community when we need to count on them now more than ever. Considering the threats we are facing right now from North Korea and isis, it’s a pretty dangerous time to undermine the I.C.’s credibility to make a five-yard sack in the Russia investigation.”

Even though there is now some bipartisan agreement that Nunes’s description of the intercepts was wildly inaccurate, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are still preparing to focus on Obama’s national-security team, rather than on Vladimir Putin’s. Last week, Democrats and Republicans finalized their witness lists, and the names tell a tale of two separate investigations. The intelligence source said, “The Democratic list involves all of the characters that you would think it would: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Carter Page,” speaking of the three Trump campaign officials who have been most closely tied to the Russia investigation. “The Republican list is almost entirely people from the Obama Administration.”

The fake scandal created by Trump and Nunes is not over yet. The first name on the Republican list is Susan Rice.

They are playing the game “best defense is a strong offense”. It has worked before. I don’t think it will work this time.

Most Americans Think Trump Won’t Keep His Promises

Gallup this morning:

 

Trump Loses Ground on Key Characteristics
Percentage who think each of the following applies to Donald Trump

 

Feb 1-5 Apr 5-9 Change
% % pct. pts.
Keeps his promises 62 45 -17
Is a strong and decisive leader 59 52 -7
Can bring about changes this country needs 53 46 -7
Is honest and trustworthy 42 36 -6
Cares about the needs of people like you 46 42 -4
Can manage the government effectively 44 41 -3
GALLUP

Yeah, that’s not good.

Maybe that explains the Trump tweets this morning.

He starts off by taking shots at Obama. Then he takes a shot at Democrats by recommending a book (it’s his kind of book because it has blank pages), gripes about “fake media” (which is, to Trump, anything factual that puts him in a bad light), and weighs in on an election with lies.  And finally, he touts a poll which isn’t that good, even it were from a reputable polling company, which Rasmusson is not.

It’s going to be a long week.

UPDATE:  On the other hand, according to Pollster his approval rating has been improving for the past couple of weeks:

White House University

Trump on health care: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Trump on China and North Korea: “[President Xi] then went into the history of China and Korea….And Korea actually used to be a part of China. And after listening for 10 minutes I realized that it’s not so easy. You know I felt pretty strongly that they have a tremendous power over China….But it’s not what you would think.”

Trump on the Export-Import Bank: “I was very much opposed to Ex-Im Bank, [but] it turns out that, first of all lots of small companies will really be helped….So instinctively you would say it’s a ridiculous thing but actually it’s a very good thing and it actually makes money. You know, it actually could make a lot of money.”

At least he’s learning. The question is… will he understand the world enough BEFORE he blows it up?

Trump’s Bizarre Interview

Our President seems unusually obsessed that he could eat dessert and have missile strikes at the same time:

BARTIROMO:  When you were with the president of China, you’re launching these military strikes.

TRUMP:  Yes.

BARTIROMO:  Was that planned?

How did that come about that it’s happening right then, because right there, you’re saying a reminder, here’s who the superpower in the world is, right?

TRUMP:  You have no idea how many people want to hear the answer to this.  I have had — I have watched speculation for three days now on what that was like (INAUDIBLE).

BARTIROMO:  When did you tell him?

TRUMP:  But I’ll tell you (INAUDIBLE)…

BARTIROMO:  Before dessert or what?

TRUMP:  But I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long, I have to (INAUDIBLE) right?

I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We’re now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?

And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert.

We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

BARTIROMO:  Unmanned?

Brilliant.

TRUMP:  It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.

Now we’re going to start getting it, because, you know, the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster.

So what happens is I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.

BARTIROMO:  (INAUDIBLE) to Syria?

TRUMP:  Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria.  And I want you to know that, because I didn’t want him to go home.  We were almost finished.  It was a full day in Palm Beach.  We’re almost finished and I — what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

BARTIROMO:  How did he react?

TRUMP:  So he paused for 10 seconds and then he asked the interpreter to please say it again.  I didn’t think that was a good sign.

And he said to me, anybody that uses gases — you could almost say or anything else — but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that young children and babies, it’s OK.

Carter Page: Subject Of A FISA Warrent

It has been a weird week in news, as the nation focuses on United Airlines and its treatment of passengers.  It’s a nice break from the Trump-Russia scandal, I suppose, but the steady drumbeat of that scandal continues, as each week offers up more revelations.

WaPo reports that Carter Page, whose credentials Trump once bragged on like a proud grandpa when he wanted to show that his campaign foreign policy shop had cred, was the subject of a FISA warrant because he was suspected of acting as an agent of a foreign government: Russia. The warrant was subsequently renewed.

That. Is. A. Big. Deal.

When Republicans ask for evidence of a wrongdoing, you can specifically say: Carter Page, who Trump mentioned by name as an adviser to the campaign, was the subject of a FISA warrant.

Now, it is true that there is nothing there, i.e. that the warrant was based on bad evidence, or that the FBI found nothing. But when you combine this piece of news with these other things….

  • Flynn lying about his contacts with the Russians and resigning in disgrace;
  • Campaign chairman Paul Manafort being cut loose because of his shady Kremlin ties;
  • Sessions perjuring himself in his senate hearings about meetings with Russia;
  • Kushner omitting meetings with Russians on his security clearance disclosure form;
  • Nunes running interference for the White House on “unmasking” that we now know was legitimate; and
  • Pretty much everyone in Trump’s orbit being involved with Russia on some level

… it’s a little hard to be so dismissive of the problem.

Maybe it all begins and ends with Flynn and Page and Manafort.  Who knows?  But this scandal is not nothing. And there could be lots more to come.

And this is a little scary:

Trump Himself Is Fake News

28% of Donald Trump’s Twitter followers are eggs, according to an analysis from Bloomberg.|

In Twitter parlance, an egg is trouble. Sometimes a bot, usually a troll, eggs tends to be people who didn’t bother taking the time to even upload a photo in their profile, often because they’re so busy creating fake profiles, it’s just not worth their time.

Eggs were such bad news that Twitter recently changed its default avatar from an egg to, well, something that harkens to an adult toy.

Bloomberg also found that of Trump’s 10 “most-engaged” Twitter followers over the past 30 days, five were robots and three appear to be robots. That would make 80% of Trump’s top ten followers fake.

And they report that Trump’s biggest Twitter fan also appears to be fake.

Twitter Pushes Back On Trump Administration

Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Customs and Border Protection today. Twitter seeks an injunction barring them from asking for the identity of the person behind @alt_uscis.

It’s not clear what legal reason the Trump administration is seeking to identify @alt_uscis.  The @alt_uscis bio states: “Immigration resistance . Team 2.0 1/2 Not the views of DHS or USCIS. Old fellow drank russian soup.”  It could be a now-fired USCIS employee and they are looking for a leak, or maybe they just don’t like criticism.

Anyway, it is going to put this administration (as well as social media resistance) to a test.  Keep your eyes open.

War With Syria?

Well, I guess it’s good to know that Trump finally recognizes the seriousness of the Syrian situation. And I hope he makes a connection between the horrible Sarin gas attacks and his terrible refugee policy making it harder for Syrians to flee.

But what is happening now?  Is this saber-rattling for real, or is it posturing?  An “America First” Donald Trump would not go to war with Syria, but as I have written about recently, Trump it seems is becoming more globalist and less isolationist.

I don’t know the answer regarding Syria.  Neither did Obama. Neither did the Congress under Obama when they would not grant his request for war.  Which, by the way, I hope Trump will do.

Er, let me put that another way.

Trump MUST get approval from Congress.  Doing otherwise would violate the Constitution.

Or maybe he’ll just do a surgical strike or two.

Hmmmm.  Seems there is a downside to Trump being a globalist too.  He’ll be a neo-con.  Great.

The Bannon Downgrade Isn’t Just About Palace Infighting; It Means Globalists Are Beating The Nationalists

“America First” might still be the motto of the Trump White House, but what that means might be something than it originally meant.  Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council could mean that Trump is starting to see America’s interest as inextricably linked to global events, rather than as something separable.  The New Yorker gets it:

For students of White House infighting, dynastic regimes, and Trump’s mental makeup, there is enough material in those two paragraphs to support several interpretations of what’s happening. One is that the Crown Prince, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has had enough of Bannon’s right-wing-revolutionary shtick; while Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, never had much sympathy for it to begin with. And Papa Don has never have gotten over the February 13th cover of Time magazine, which featured a close-up shot of Bannon and the headline “The Great Manipulator.”

Other readings could be offered, of course, and some of them may be more accurate. But the real import of Bannon’s departure from the N.S.C. goes beyond personalities and palace intrigue. It confirms a trend we’ve seen developing for weeks now: the Trump Administration’s globalists, such as Kushner and Cohn, are growing in influence, while the nationalists—led by Bannon—are on the defensive.

To most members of the Washington foreign-policy establishment, regardless of party affiliation, that will come as an immense relief. It suggests that business as usual—Atlanticism, free trade, American economic and military engagement across the globe—will ultimately prevail. Bannon has embraced an alternative vision, which he calls “economic nationalism.” Many of his critics have identified it as a desire to upend the international order that was established after the Second World War, and to replace it with a protectionist, ethnocentric model—one in which the United States, Russia, and nationalist-led European countries join together to fight Islam and confront a rising China. During the campaign, and even during the transition, Trump sometimes seemed to be leaning in Bannon’s direction. But since he has taken office, the actions of his Administration have indicated otherwise.

The first indication of what was to come occurred in February, when Trump backed off the threatening signals he’d been sending to the Chinese, which had included accepting a phone call from the President of Taiwan, a country that Beijing regards as an integral part of the Middle Kingdom. In a telephone conversation with President Xi on February 9th, Trump said he would honor the “One China” policy that the U.S. government has recognized since Richard Nixon went to Beijing, in 1972.

Kushner, whose daughter Arabella is learning Mandarin, appears to have played an important role here. According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s Ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, courted Kushner assiduously—and, apparently, successfully. “Trump’s son-in-law is key,” Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, in Shanghai, told the Journal. “First, he’s our ambassador’s main point of contact with Trump. Second, he’s the main figure for passing ideas and suggestions on China policy.”

Trump has also retreated from his jarring rhetoric about nato. In January, the President-elect told a German newspaper that the military alliance was “obsolete,” raising fears all over Europe that his Administration might revive American isolationism. But in early March, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, wrote to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, and asked Congress to ratify Montenegro’s membership in nato—a clear expression of support for its continued expansion. A couple of weeks later, the White House confirmed that Trump will attend a nato summit in May, alongside Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and other European leaders

Trump’s approach to Syria may also be changing. In the dystopian “Clash of Civilizations” scenario that Bannon and his supporters subscribe to, Syria represents an important staging ground in the U.S.-led crusade against radical Islam, and an example of what future U.S.-Russian coöperation could look like. But the photographs of children being asphyxiated by Assad’s chemical weapons appear to have given Trump pause about being associated with the Assad-Putin axis. At a press conference on Wednesday, he said, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

The biggest turnaround has come in the area of trade. During the campaign, Trump threatened to slap import duties of forty-five per cent on China and thirty-five per cent on Mexico. He said that on his first day in office, he would designate China as a currency manipulator. These things didn’t happen. Recently, the White House has let it be known that, far from starting a trade war with Mexico, it is seeking only modest changes to nafta—the very nafta that Trump has described as “a disaster” and the worst trade agreement in history.

“According to an administration draft proposal being circulated in Congress by the U.S. trade representative’s office,” the Journalreported last week, “the U.S. would keep some of Nafta’s most controversial provisions, including an arbitration panel that lets investors in the three nations circumvent local courts to resolve civil claims. Critics of these panels said they impinge on national sovereignty.” The story went on: “The U.S. also wouldn’t use the Nafta negotiations to deal with disputes over foreign-currency policies or to hit numerical targets for bilateral trade deficits, as some trade hawks have been urging.”

It would hardly be surprising if the Administration’s evolving trade policy is one of the sources of tension between Bannon and Cohn, who is head of the National Economic Council. Although the nafta proposal was circulated by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, it also appeared to reflect the thinking of Cohn and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, both of whom are former Goldman Sachs executives (and Democratic Party contributors).

***

The one puzzle—and potential hiccup—in all of this is Trump. From the get-go, there has been a glaring contradiction in his approach to the world. While his rhetoric has, at times, embraced nativism, isolationism, and protectionism, he is himself a consummate globalist. As a television celebrity and developer, his business is largely based on selling his name around the world and attracting foreign money, some of it of dubious origin, to his U.S. real-estate ventures.

The question has always been, Which Trump will win out: the nationalist rabble-rouser or the avatar of global capitalism? It is still too early to say for sure. But the evidence is pointing in one direction, and the outcome of the meeting with President Xi may well confirm it.

If It Sounds Unlikely, You Can Bet It Is A Lie

I’m not sure we need to fact check Trump anymore.  Anything that sounds like a lie has an almost 100% chance of being a lie.

Take this, from his interview with Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush yesterday:

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

HABERMAN: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”

Right? That doesn’t SOUND like Elijah Cummings.

Cummings issued a statement:

“During my meeting with the president and on several occasions since then, I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if — if — he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing on the divisive and harmful path he is currently on.”

That’s a pretty stark difference.

In fairness to Trump (sort of), Trump might not actually be lying. He simply may be so narcissistic that he actually heard it the way he conveyed it. Which is actually worse.

This might be a good place to plop down this LA Times Editorial….

Why the president lies

The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, April 4: ——— Donald Trump did not invent the lie and is not even its master. Lies have oozed out of the White House for more than two centuries and out of politicians’ mouths — out of all people’s mouths — likely as long as…

Understanding The Trump Presidency

Forget white supremacists and the alt-right, writes Alex Pareene. They don’t explain how Trump got  into power, and why his Administration is failing so badly.  To understand that….

…. You pretty much just need to be in semi-regular contact with a white, reasonably comfortable, male retiree. We are now ruled by men who think and act very much like that ordinary man you might know, and if you want to know why they believe so many strange and terrible things, you can basically blame the fact that a large and lucrative industry is dedicated to lying to them.

Because there was a lot of money in it for various hucksters and moguls and authors and politicians, the conservative movement spent decades building up an entire sector of the economy dedicated to scaring and lying to older white men. For millions of members of that demographic, this parallel media dedicated to lying to them has totally supplanted the “mainstream” media. Now they, and we, are at the mercy of the results of that project. The inmates are running the asylum, if there is a kind of asylum that takes in many mostly sane people and then gradually, over many years, drives one subset of its inmates insane, and also this asylum has the largest military in the world.

There’s a lot of thought in there, and the must-read article ends this way:

As always, the people who’ll truly be burned are the ones who bought into the sales pitch, from voters in opioid-ravaged post-industrial shitholes (Chris Christie’s on the way!) to Trump-supporting right-wingers in Congress, who will find their president mostly uninterested in their agenda (and unable to help them implement it even if he did care). The operators will still get something out of it, because they usually do. Paul Ryan won’t get to completely dismantle the welfare state, but he’ll still probably get a friendly Supreme Court justice or two out of him.

Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus both probably think they can “manage” Trump, the same way a coterie of movement conservatives “managed” the elderly and checked-out Reagan, putting him out in front of the cameras to deliver his patter while they went about the business of running the country. You can see this in how apparently warring factions within the White House are attempting to control what intelligence Trump sees and who is responsible for analyzing it before it reaches his desk. But no matter what his handlers put in his briefing book, the president is getting his actual briefings from “Fox & Friends”—as if Reagan had listened only to Paul Harvey to determine his agenda and strategy.

There’s plenty Trump’s minders can accomplish despite how distractible and unmanageable he is. They’ve already planted right-wing shock troops in all the federal agencies. They’ll fill the judiciary with extremists. They can do a lot of damage simply because the boss doesn’t care about the actual details and responsibilities of his gig. But on the major legacy-building (or other side’s legacy-destroying) stuff, really anything involving Congress or extensive public debate, there’s no coherent path toward anything that looks like victory. If the bullshit-peddlers who attached themselves to Trump truly want to remake the nation—beyond making it meaner in the areas in which it is already pretty persistently mean, or beyond simply raining death down upon foreigners with even less regard for casualties or consequences than evinced by prior administrations—they’re screwed. They’re screwed because they and their predecessors engineered a perpetual misinformation machine, and then a bunch of people addicted to their product took over the government.

Now, and for the foreseeable future, the grifter-in-chief sits alone in the White House residence every night, watching cable news tell him comforting lies—that he’s a hugely popular president, that responsibility for his myriad setbacks and failures lies with the many powerful enemies aligned against him a grand conspiracy—in between the ads for reverse mortgages and “all-natural male enhancement.” There’s an image of America in the age of the complete triumph of bullshit. You spend a few years selling lousy steaks to suckers, then one morning you wake up and you’re the sucker—and the steak.

Wow.

 

Bannon On The Run

Steve Bannon has more free time:

President Donald Trump has removed Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, from the National Security Council, according to a filing in the federal registry. A top White House official told NBC News that Bannon was put on the NSC’s Principals’ Committee only as a check against then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Now that Flynn is gone, Bannon is no longer needed in that role, the official said.

Rrrriiiiiiight.  Flynn left on February 14, so, you know, that reason isn’t very good.

Also it begs a BIG question: why did the White House think that Flynn needed a “check” anyway? If he was a security risk, why was he (Flynn) on the NSC at all?

Wow! Fox News And The White House Are Going Full Bore On This Susan Rice Thing!

It is amazing how the goalposts have moved from Trump’s initial tweets on March 10.  Let’s look at them again:

Okay.

So Obama has now become Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Adviser.

“Wiretap” has become “names unmasked”.

“Trump” and “Trump Tower”, the object(s) of the supposed “wiretap(p)”, is not Trump associates.

But other than those things — Trump was 100% correct when he said “Obama wiretapped me”.

Here’s what we do FOR A FACT: Susan Rice — who was the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER — sought to unmask intelligence a lot.  When she or anybody else does this, the N.S.A. uses a two-part test to evaluate unmasking requests: “Is there a valid need to know in the course of the execution of their official duties?” and “Is the identification necessary to truly understand the context of the intelligence value that the report is designed to generate?”

The answer to these questions is often yes. “Masking and unmasking happens every single day, dozens of times, or hundreds of times. I don’t even know the numbers,” Jim Himes, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me. “There needs to be a process followed. It’s a fairly rigorous process, involving lots of review by counsels and that sort of thing.”

There is an audit trail for these requests and the responses.  Which means that if Susan Rice was abusing this process, she did a terrible job of covering it up. All Trump’s aides had to do to discover her alleged abuse was to review logs on a White House computer that tracked her requests.

And while Republicans are targeting Rice, recklessly asserting that she spied on Trump’s campaign, their attacks also implicate the N.S.A., which would have had to determine that the intercepts had “intelligence value,” and then to approve any unmasking based on its two criteria: that Rice had “a valid need to know” the identities of masked names and that unmasking was necessary to understand the report.

And they love that it is Rice, because Rice was also involved in the non-scandal called Benghazi.

So it seems the political winds may be shifting on this story, or at least blowing in a slightly more favorable direction for the White House. But unless firm evidence of any actual wrongdoing emerges, these partial revelations, some favorable to the president and some unfavorable, are probably mostly a distraction, or at least a way to while away time, until the real news emerges from the congressional or FBI investigations.

Let’s set aside that his “story” emanates from Mike Cernovich, the man who made up stories that there is an child-sex ring literally underground at a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant.  Let’s also set aside the fact there is nothing there.  Just don’t believe the Fox hype.

UPDATE:  The Wall Street Journal gets in on the act, with its editorial board issuing a blistering op-ed on Tuesday morning:

All this is highly unusual — and troubling. Unmasking does occur, but it is typically done by intelligence or law-enforcement officials engaged in anti-terror or espionage investigations. Ms. Rice would have had no obvious need to unmask Trump campaign officials other than political curiosity.

I can think of a need. And it is obvious. If the Russians were hacking the DNC and attempting to sabotage the election (which was known at the time by Rice), and Trump campaign officials were meeting and talking with Russian agents (which was known at the time by Rice), then I can understand why she might want that information unmasked.

Rice spoke to MSNBC shortly and said she didn’t use any such intelligence for political purposes.

“The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes; that’s absolutely false,” she said. She added: “I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.”

She confirmed that such unmasking was part of her duties as national security adviser, without referring to specific cases.

“That’s necessary for me to do my job,” she said. “It’s necessary for the secretary of state, or the secretary of defense, or the CIA director to do their jobs. We can’t be passive consumers of this information and not — and do our jobs effectively to protect the American people. Imagine if we saw something of grave significance that involved Russia, or China, or anybody else, interfering in our political process and we needed to understand the significance of that. For us not to try to understand it would be dereliction of duty.”

Right.  And It’s circular logic. If Rice didn’t know who was on the calls how could it be a political attack? On the other hand if Trumps people hadn’t been talking to Russian operatives they wouldn’t have been recorded.

UPDATE AGAIN — CNN’s Chris Cuomo gets it:

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told viewers on Tuesday that the controversy surrounding former national security adviser Susan Rice is “another fake scandal being peddled by right-wing media.”

Cuomo offered the remarks about Rice’s reported request to know the identities of President Trump transition team members mentioned in intelligence briefings during CNN’s “New Day.”

Rice has been accused of unmasking the Trump transition members.

“So President Trump wants you to believe that he is the victim of a ‘crooked scheme,’ ” Cuomo began. “Those are his words. And here are our words: There is no evidence of any wrongdoing.”

“And, in fact, if anything the [national security adviser] asking for identities was a reflection of exactly how much traffic there was involving Trump people and foreign players,” Cuomo continued.

“The White House blasting the press for not reporting on another fake scandal being peddled by right-wing media.”

When Doing Something Legal Is A Scandal

So let’s recap two of Trump’s tweets this morning:

What is her referring to?  Well, it stems from something in Bloomberg:

White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

….Rice’s requests to unmask the names of Trump transition officials does not vindicate Trump’s own tweets from March 4 in which he accused Obama of illegally tapping Trump Tower. There remains no evidence to support that claim….The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice’s unmasking requests were likely within the law.

Emphasis mine.

Yes. Susan Rice, the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER requested unmasked intelligence.  She probably asked for unmasked security intelligence all the time, being the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER and all. Did I mention she was NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER at the time, and that Russia had hacked the DNC and tried to sway the 2016 election?

Is this “evidence” that Trump’s team was surveilled, perhaps incidentally?  Yeah, maybe.  But given what we know AS FACT about Flynn, is Trump arguing that he SHOULDN’T have been surveilled?

Signs Of Insanity

I don’t understand Trump’s tweets. I mean, what does he think he accomplishes by them? Shouldn’t he know by now that they don’t divert anybody? Shouldn’t he know that it actually DOESN’T rally his base, but poll after poll shows it embarrasses them?

Yet he still does it.

Doing the same negative thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity, they say.

Oh well.  We had a variety of unhinged tweets this morning:

Insane.  He’s president.  The man has access to every secret the United States has. He can direct the intelligence community to show him all of the reports, data, and evidence that he can use to nail anybody in the Obama administration for breaking the law. Instead, he watches TV and praises ‘Fox and Friends’ for their “reporting.”

Hmmmm.  The only sanction “lifted” was by Trump himself last February, when his Treasury allowed coordination with the FSB for encrypted mobile tech export to Russia.


It’s not ‘Trivial Pursuit’ Mr. President. There were no “answers” provided to Hillary for the “debate” (Lord knows what debate to which you’re referring). In one case, a possible question for one of the debates was provided to the Hillary campaign by Donna Brazille but according to this piece, Hillary still screwed it up.

Trump’s Favorite TV Show Is Misleading Him And Therefore The Country

Media Matters:

“For the record,” a top Fox News executive explained to the network’s newsroom a decade ago, “seeing an item on a website does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC.”

John Moody, at the time Fox’s vice president for news, issued that missive after Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade highlighted for their millions of viewers a right-wing outlet’s quickly debunked report that then-Sen. Barack Obama had gone to school at an extremist Islamic madrassa as a child. “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about,” Moody told The New York Times. “They reported information from a publication whose accuracy we didn’t know.”

Ten years later, the denizens of the program’s curvy couch still frequently don’t know what they are talking about. But now, their conspiracy theories and bogus claims are repeated by the White House as if they were credible reports from distinguished journalists. Under the Trump administration, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends are setting the national agenda, thanks to their biggest fan, the president of the United States.

Last week, Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano stopped by the set of Fox & Friends and claimed that unnamed intelligence sources had told him that late last year, a British spy agency had surveilled now-President Donald Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

The incident was typical for Napolitano, a 9/11 truther who regularly uses his Fox airtime to push paranoid conspiracy theories. But the response from the Trump administration was remarkable.

Two days later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s claim during a briefing. Since then:

  • The British intelligence service has denied the charge.
  • The Trump administration was forced to discuss the incidents with the British government.
  • When a reporter asked Trump about the incident during a press conference with a foreign leader, the president claimed that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.”
  • Fox News admitted that it could not substantiate Napolitano’s claim.
  • Napolitano acknowledged that one of his sources was a well-known conspiracy theorist.
  • That conspiracy theorist said that Napolitano had botched the story.
  • A British newspaper owned by Fox chief executive Rupert Murdoch reported that the story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.
  • The deputy director of the National Security Agency told BBC News that the charge was “arrant nonsense.”

“There was a time when a guy like Judge Andrew Napolitano could make some marginal remarks on Fox News, and only a large plume of non-White House officials would take him seriously,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted Friday. “Perhaps a website or two would pick up on them. Then everyone would move on to other matters. … Warning to Judge Napolitano: People in power are now listening to you. They’re case-building off of your reporting.”

If Trump can be said to treat Fox News personalities as his advisers, then the hosts of Fox & Friends are his kitchen cabinet. While the president regularly assails journalists as lying members of the “opposition party,” he praises Fox for producing “the most honest morning show” and calls its hosts “honorable people.”

Trump has said that he may owe his presidency to his years-long weekly interview segment on Fox & Friends, telling the show’s hosts earlier this year that “maybe without those call-ins, somebody else is sitting here.” Since becoming perhaps the most powerful person on the planet, Trump has continued to regularly watch the morning show, sometimes for hours at a time. He frequently tweets along with the program, commenting on the stories he sees and retweeting the broadcast’s feed. And those presidential comments set the news agenda for the rest of the press.

Given the president’s tendency to run with thinly sourced claims he gets from right-wing outlets, this is not a good sign.

Doocy and Kilmeade, who have hosted since the show’s debut in 1998, regularlyexposethemselvesasbigotedmisogynists. (Ainsley Earhardt, the program’s third co-host for the past year, provides run-of-the-mill conservative-inflected Fox commentary.)

Notably, Kilmeade has declared that “all terrorists are Muslims” (he later said he misspoke) and issued a shockingly racist rant about how Americans don’t have “pure genes” like the Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics” (he subsequently apologized). Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson accused Doocy of engaging in “a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” on and off air in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s founder and chairman, Roger Ailes; while Ailes was pushed out, no public action was taken against Doocy.

They are also two of the dumbest people in the news business.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, please watch this clip of Trump’s favorite morning show hosts attempting to roast marshmallows over an open fire using a plastic spoon and their bare hands. Pay special attention to the look on Chris Wallace’s face as he observes the antics from a remote site with increasing disbelief, and eventually halts the segment to call them “dopes.”

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The gullibility and stupidity of Fox’s morning hosts is now an issue of national import. They frequently push obviously false and easily debunked claims, often based on dubious reports from sources that lack credibility. Some past examples include:

The Time A Federal Judge Scolded Them For Credulously Reporting A Parody Story. In 2007, just a few months after the hosts’ madrassa commentary spurred the network executive to warn them not to believe everything they see on the internet, they reported that a middle school student had been suspended for leaving a ham sandwich on a lunch table near Muslim students. At one point during the segment, Kilmeade said, “I hope we’re not being duped,” to which Doocy replied, “We’re not being duped. I’ve looked it up on a couple of different websites up there.” They were being duped; their source was a fabricated story from the hoax website Associated Content. Doocy subsequently issued a retraction and apology.  A federal judge later criticized the “gullible” hosts over the incident, saying their actions “should provide grist for journalism classes teaching research and professionalism standards in the Internet age.”

The Time Doocy Claimed Obama Fabricated An Earthquake (He Didn’t). In March 2010, Obama said a proposal to adjust Medicaid reimbursement rates for states affected by natural disasters “also affects Hawaii, which went through an earthquake.” Doocy suggested that Obama had made the earthquake up, noting that previous Hawaiian earthquakes came in 1868 and 1975. His allegation came from Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, the dumbest man on the Internet and, not surprisingly, a regular source of Fox & Friends stories; an earthquake struck Hawaii in 2006.

The Time Fox & Friends Investigated Whether A Terrorist Ghostwrote Obama’s Autobiography. In March 2011, the program hosted WorldNetDaily columnist and noted conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill to discuss his claim that Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father, was actually written by former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers.

The Time Doocy Told Trump That Obama “Could End It Simply — Just Show [The Birth Certificate] To Us.” In a series of segments in March and April 2011, the hosts supported Trump’s fact-free claims that Obama had not produced his birth certificate. During their regular interview segment, Doocy responded to Trump’s false statement that President Obama “has not given a birth certificate” by saying, “He could end it simply — just show it to us, and it’d be over.”

The Time The Show Invented A TSA Program To Test Airline Passenger DNA. The program ran a March 2011 segment suggesting that the Transportation Security Administration would soon begin testing airline passengers’ DNA at airports. Napolitano criticized the purported effort, saying it “offends the Constitution” and “feeds the government’s voracious appetite to control people”; Kilmeade defended TSA for “trying to stop illegal human trafficking.” Arguments about civil liberties aside, the entire story was made up, as Doocy acknowledged when he apologized for the “error” the next day.

The Time Fox & Friends Claimed Obama Wanted To Apologize To Japan For Hiroshima. In October 2011, the hosts lashed out at Obama because he supposedly had wanted to apologize to Japan for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, but Japan had nixed the idea. The next day, Doocy sought to “clarify” the story by removing the portion of the story that had angered them, stating: “We want to be very clear. There was never a plan for President Obama to apologize to Japan. We should have been clear about that, and we’re sorry for the confusion.”

The Time They Falsely Claimed Obama Met With A Pirate But Not Netanyahu. Channeling a story from The Drudge Report, the hosts claimed in September 2012 that Obama had time to meet with a man in a pirate costume for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but had been “too busy” to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the photo of Obama and the pirate that the White House had tweeted out the previous day had been taken three years earlier for use during that year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Doocy and Fox & Friends subsequently acknowledged that fact on social media.

The Time They Pretended Obama Wanted To Take Kevlar Helmets Away From Cops. After a police officer survived the June 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, because he had been wearing a Kevlar helmet, Doocy suggested that the Obama administration had been “pushing to take away life-saving armor” like the helmet through a ban on the federal government transferring military equipment to police departments. Kevlar helmets are not on the list of banned equipment, as Doocy acknowledged in a clarification the next day.

The Time Fox & Friends Pushed The Conspiracy Theory That Google Was Manipulating Search Results To Help Hillary Clinton. In June 2016, Kilmeade and Napolitano accused Google of “manipulating the search [results] for Hillary [Clinton] to bury the bad stuff.” Napolitano said that “we know” Google “has” manipulated search results relating to Clinton according to a “very extensive test,” and that the result is an example of “the Google, Eric Schmidt [executive chairman of Google’s board of directors], President Obama, Democratic National Committee, West Wing circle that we all know exists.” But, according to CNNMoney, “Despite what you might have seen online, Google is not manipulating its search results to favor Hillary Clinton.”

The Time Doocy Pushed A Conspiracy Theory About A Murdered Democratic Staffer. In July 2016, Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered while walking home in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Conservatives subsequently suggested that he may have been murdered because he had helped WikiLeaks gain access to the DNC’s email servers (his family condemned these conspiracy theories). Fox & Friends picked up the story, with Doocy stating on air, “Some on the internet are suggesting, wait a minute, was [Rich] the source of the WikiLeaks DNC leaks?”

Now when Doocy and Kilmeade run credulous reports based on something they saw “on the internet,” the president is watching — and taking them seriously.

All very true.

And check out this Fox & Friends tweet just a few minutes ago….

No. It was historical.

Is This How You Run A Business?

A lot of people voted for Trump because they thought he would run the country the way you run a business, which is stupid to begin with because a country is not a business.  Maybe it has something to do with management style, although I’m not sure all businesses have the same management style, and I think very few people know what Trump’s management style was when he was a businessman.

Aaaaaanyway, Politico reports how things are running at the White House:

A culture of paranoia is consuming the Trump administration, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies—inside their own government.

In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a “deep state” of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them.

Aides are going to great lengths to protect themselves. They’re turning off work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers when they arrive home from work out of fear that they could be used to eavesdrop. They’re staying mum in meetings out of concern that their comments could be leaked to the press by foes.

Many are using encrypted apps that automatically delete messages once they’ve been read, or are leaving their personal cell phones at home in case their bosses initiate phone checks of the sort that press secretary Sean Spicer deployed last month to identify leakers on his team.

It’s an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal, and Trump’s ambitious agenda has been eclipsed by headlines surrounding his unproven claim that former President Barack Obama tapped his phone lines.

One senior administration aide, who like most others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the degree of suspicion had created a toxicity that was unsustainable.

Unsustainable toxicity.  And we’re not even at the 100 day point. It will be interesting when these people leave the administration and start interviewing. Or writing books.

Unless, of course, they signed non-disclosure agreements.  I wonder….

Speed Read: The House Obamacare Replacement Bill

From Axios:

The House Republican Obamacare replacement package is finally out, and the two main health care committees — Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce — are scheduled to start working on the bills on Wednesday. Here’s your speed read on what’s in them — summaries are available here and here:

In:

  • Pre-existing condition coverage
  • Continuous coverage — 30 percent penalty if people don’t keep themselves insured
  • Special fund to help states set up “high-risk” pools, fix their insurance markets, or help low-income patients
  • Enrollment in expanded Medicaid will be frozen
  • Current enrollees can stay until 2020, and keep getting extra federal funds, until they leave the program on their own
  • Medicaid will change to “per capita caps” (funding limits for each person) in fiscal year 2020
  • A new, refundable tax credit will be available in 2020 to help people buy health insurance
  • Covers five age groups — starts at $2,000 for people in their 20s, increases to $4,000 for people in their 60s
  • It’s not means tested, but phased out for upper-income people (starting at $75,000 for individuals, $150,000 for families)
  • Insurers can charge older customers five times as much as young adults

Out:

  • All Obamacare taxes
  • All Obamacare subsidies, including its premium tax credit
  • Individual, employer mandate penalties
  • “Cadillac tax” (until 2025)
  • No longer will limit the tax break for employer-sponsored health coverage
  • No payments to insurers for cost-sharing reductions
  • Selling insurance across state lines (can’t be done in the “reconciliation” bill)
  • Medical malpractice reform (can’t be done in the “reconciliation” bill)

There’s also a little sugar in there for insurance company CEOs. Under Obamacare, insurance companies could not deduct an employee’s pay that exceeded $500,000 per year.  This limited incentives to give excessive salaries to CEOs and officers.  That limitation is gone now.

Look, if this is complicated for you (and no shame in that — it’s hard stuff) consider this: the House did not send this to the Congressional Budget Office for “scoring”. In other words, we would normally get an estimate as to (1) how much this will cost or save (will it add to the deficit?); (2) how many people will get lose coverage; and (3) how much insurance costs will go up (or down) as a result for the average consumer.  The House did not get the bill “scored” because — let’s face it — they didn’t think the numbers would look good.

AND they are trying to get this passed without debate.

My prediction? Even if they succeed in passing the bill, it is DOA in the Senate.

Disdain For Democracy

Worse than lying, says Greg Sargeant:

Trump is enraged at being subjected to a system of democratic and institutional constraints, for which he has signaled nothing but absolute, unbridled contempt. The system is pushing back, and he can’t bear it.

On Monday morning, the latest chapter in this tale — Trump’s unsupported accusation that Obama wiretapped his phones — took another turn. Trump’s spokeswoman said on ABC News that Trump does not accept FBI Director James Comey’s claim — which was reported on over the weekend — that no such wiretapping ever happened.

As E.J. Dionne writes, this episode is a “tipping point” in the Trump experiment. Trump leveled the charge based on conservative media. Then, after an internal search for evidence to back it up produced nothing, the White House press secretary called on Congress to investigate it and declared the administration’s work done. While the previous administration did wiretap, the problem is the recklessness and baselessness of Trump’s specific allegations, and the White House’s insistence that the burden of disproving them must fall on others — on Congress and on the FBI. Trump’s allegations must be humored at all costs, simply because he declared them to be true — there can be no admission of error, and worse, the White House has declared itself liberated from the need to even pretend to have evidence to back up even Trump’s most explosive claims.

This is more than disdain for the truth. It represents profound contempt for our democratic and institutional processes. In this sense, it’s only the latest in what has become a broader pattern:

  • When the media accurately reported on Trump’s inaugural crowd sizes, the White House not only contested this on the substance in a laughably absurd manner. It also accused the press of intentionally diminishing Trump’s crowd count, thus trying to delegitimize the news media’s institutional act of holding Trump accountable to factual reality.
  • Trump has tweeted that the media is the “enemy of the American people” and has accused the media of covering up terrorist plots. Stephen K. Bannon has railed against the press as “the opposition party.” Trump gave a recent speech heavily devoted to attacking the media, once again for deliberately and knowingly misleading Americans. All this goes far beyond merely questioning the media’s role as an arbiter of truth.
  • After getting elected, Trump continued to repeat the lie that millions voted illegally in the election, undermining faith in American democracy. When the media called out this falsehood, the White House threatened an investigation to prove it true, which hasn’t materialized, in effect using the vow of investigations as nothing more than a tool to obfuscate efforts to hold him accountable.
  • After a court blocked Trump’s travel ban, Trump questioned the institutional legitimacy of the “so-called judge” in question. He also cast the stay as a threat to our security, even though the ban has no credible national security rationale, something that has now been demonstrated by leaks from the Department of Homeland Security (exactly the sort of leaking that has Trump in a fury). Senior adviser Stephen Miller flatly declared that the ban would be reintroduced in part to demonstrate that Trump’s national security power “will not be questioned,” thus declaring the explicit goal of sweeping away institutional checks on it. And then the White House delayed introduction of the new ban in order to continue basking in good press from his speech to Congress, thus undercutting its own claim that this is an urgent national security matter.
  • Trump continues to hold court at Mar-a-Lago, using the power of the presidency to promote his own resort, whose membership fees sink money into his own pockets. The White House publicly intervened in a business dispute involving Trump’s daughter and even tried to steer customers her way, an act which Kellyanne Conway embellished by cheerfully sticking a rhetorical middle finger in the face of anyone who finds such behavior troubling.

We’re witnessing a level of total disdain for basic democratic and institutional processes that defies description, and perhaps calls for a new vocabulary. But the story does not end here. As Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic explain in a great piece, the almost comical lack of good faith that Trump and the White House are showing toward our processes is inspiring an escalation in institutional pushback — from the courts, the media, government leakers, and civil society — that is having much more of a constraining effect than Trump ever could have anticipated. Indeed, the Trump White House’s ongoing conduct is itself producing the very systemic resistance that now has Trump in such a rage.

Pay-To-Play Mar-a-Lago Style

From the Washington Examiner, we learn how much Donald Trump has been profiting from people paying for access to him:

If you pay $200,000 a year to the company Donald Trump owns, you too can have access most weekends to the president and his top officials. As an alternative, your organization could cut a $150,000 check to bring in a couple of hundred people who will have a chance to schmooze with the president and cabinet officials. Foreign moguls and dignitaries welcome.

This isn’t Bill Clinton’s Lincoln Bedroom. This isn’t the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s reign at the State Department. This is Mar-a-Lago.

Donald Trump, for the fourth weekend in the past five, has gone down to his Florida resort, and once again he is mingling with guests.

Now, the Lincoln Bedroom and Clinton Foundation is conservative tripe of course.  Lincoln’s Bedroom was, you know, ONE ROOM, and on the occasions where friends slept over, these were people who had “access” to begin with.  And the Clinton Foundation donations didn’t actually bring access to Hillary.

But here, not only do Mar-a-Lago patrons get access, but Trump profits personally and directly:

Trump refused to sell his company or unload his properties. While he has given up management of them, he still owns them. That means he still profits when someone books a gala there or becomes a member. And if you’ve followed the lobbying game in Washington, you know that special interests are likely shelling out the cash to get a chance to be close to the president — not necessarily because they expect Trump to reward them as a quid pro quo for their membership, but because joining Mar-a-Lago is the best way to get close to him.

Trump might have an out is he never went to Mar-a-Lago, but he’s gone six out of his seven weekends as President.

If Hillary Clinton pulled a stunt like this, Trumpers would be screaming. When you listen for their howling about this pay-for-access scheme, all you’ll hear from them is the relaxing sound of crickets.

Take Him At His Word

The right wing Washington Times reports:

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday that President Trump has access to information and intelligence others do not and that “credible news sources” suggested there might be more to look into, after Mr. Trump accused former President Barack Obama over the weekend of tapping phones in Trump Tower during last year’s campaign.

“Well, let’s get to the bottom of it — that is the president’s entire point,” Ms. Conway said on “Fox & Friends.” “You have a number of various and credible news sources showing that there was politically motivated activity all during the campaign and suggesting that there may be more there.”

“The president’s entire point is that the people deserve to know,” she said. “If we don’t know, then let’s find out together.”

If it is true that “President Trump has access to information and intelligence others do not” and this is the basis for his knowledge that Obama tapped Trump Towers, then hell, some Congressional committee needs to look into the Obama wiretapping right now.  And their first witness should be Donald Trump himself.

Let Trump tell the American people what he “knows” to be true, and more importantly, HOW HE KNOWS IT.

I have a feeling, as everyone does, that he is wanting the government to chase conspiracy theories.

But I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.  CALL TRUMP TO THE STAND!!

In Other News, The Travel Ban

As we watch Attorney General Jeff Sessions not remember, then remember, but only sort of kind of remember whether or not he talked with the Russians around the same time they were hacking into the DNC, and as we learn about more and more meetings between the Trump campaign team and the Russians even though they all denied those meetings, there are other things happening, including the Trump White House’s revamping of the travel ban, which failed so gloriously a few weeks ago.

The question is, why is the new revised ban taking so long? And the answer is: there isn’t any credible national security rationale for it. Unlike on the campaign trail, when you’re governing, you actually have to have justification for what you’re proposing, or you often run into trouble.

Last night,Rachel Maddow revealed a second Department of Homeland Security document which further undercuts the substantive case for Trump’s ban, which would restrict entry into the country by refugees and migrants from select Muslim-majority countries. The new internal Department of Homeland Security document that reached this key judgment:

We assess that most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns.

So… remember when Trump on the campaign trail asked that we stop all Muslims from coming into the country until we can assess “what’s going on”?

Well, we now know what’s going on.  They are not coming IN radicalized; they (and by “they”, I mean a teeny tiny fraction of them) are becoming radicalized AFTER they get here, probably because of assholes like Trump who are bigots.

Anyway, the hard-to-find full document is here:

The Trump-Russia Connection

With a line that runs through newly confirmed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Rachel Maddow connects the dots between a billionaire Russian oligarch and a Donald Trump deal worth tens of millions of dollars.  It’s long (Rachel tends to baby-step us through things) but thought-provoking.

At the end of the day, I have to ask…. so what?  Any illegalities?  It might explain Trump’s love for Mother Russia.  It doesn’t suggest anything like a scandal though.  Unless I’m missing something?

Draft Republican Plan Leaked

Politico has obtained a draft bill from House Republicans for Obamacare repeal. The draft closely follows proposals put forward by House Speaker Paul Ryan and the proposal Tom Price introduced last year. He’s now popular vote loser Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. It defunds Planned Parenthood completely. For everybody. No matter what they visit PP for. But more than that, it scraps Medicaid expansion and by allowing insurance companies to charge older people much more for insurance.

The Republican plan would also eliminate Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. States could still cover those people if they chose but they’d get a lot less federal money to do so. And instead of the current open-ended federal entitlement, states would get capped payments to states based on the number of Medicaid enrollees.

Capped payments is basically the same idea as a block grant. The state would get a set amount of money—less than currently under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion—depending on the current Medicaid population size. If for some reason the Medicaid-eligible population increased in a state, it would have to do that thing Republicans falsely screamed bloody murder about with Obamacare: ration care. It would have to decide whether to keep covering children, or the disabled, or the elderly in long-term care. Which means, fewer people covered.

The draft bill is two weeks old, so maybe there have been changes, but if this is the end result, GOPCare will suck.  And they will get an earful.

Two Bills Signed Into Law By Trump So Far

(1) Repeal of the “Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers” Rule.

The rule was that oil, gas and mineral companies had to disclose (to the Securities and Exchange Commission) any payments (taxes, royalties, fees, bonuses, etc) given to foreign governments relating to commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals. Designed to prevent companies from engaging in corruption with foreign governments, it has only been a rule since last September. It is gone now.

(2) Repeal of the “Stream Protection” Rule:

The rule, which has only been around since December, was a comprehensive regulatory environmental protection plan which governed the conditions in which a coal mining company can and cannot dump mining waste into streams and waterways. They would have had to monitor affected streams during mining, and the company had to develop a plan for restoring damaged waterways to something close to their natural state after mining is done. Except, no more. That rule is repealed under the reason that compliance would result in the loss of coal mining jobs. (In truth, the rule would only have taken about 120 jobs in the next 20 years, while the coal mining industry as a whole has lost 25,000 jobs since 2012, much of that due to continue automation and lower demand.)

Trump’s Truly Bizarre Press Conference

Imma get a video up as soon as one is available, but I think you’re going to be hearing about “President Trump’s February 16 Press Conference” somewhere down the road, perhaps as a citation in a legal filing.

To his credit, he took the hard question. And the big news, when all is said and done, is that Trump would have authorized Flynn to discusses sanctions.  But then he gave a weak denial about election contacts with Russia.  Okay, so two big moments.  Okay, there were others.

One of favorites was how he asked a black female reporter if she knew that Congressional Black Caucus and then told her to set up a meeting, like she was in his secretarial pool.

He went to use lie about his “largest electoral college win since Reagan”.  When a reporter told him he was wrong, and how can he be so inaccurate and yet complain about “fake news”, he just dismissed it — “well, somebody told me that”

Some of it was oddly self-serving and bizarre.  Like saying that the White House was running like a “well-oiled machine” and that the roll out of his travel ban went smoothly (it was the 9th Circuit that was chaotic).  Several times, he went back to Hillary Clinton, who really hasn’t been on anybody’s mind much (and certainly wasn’t asked about)

At other times it was outright scary, like when he mused about how he’d like to take out that Russian ship in international waters.  That would be a clear cause for war, with us on the wrong side.  At another point, he went on a long tangent about nuclear holocaust, as if he had just learned about its horrors.

Jake Tapper gets the win for the best immediate response:

Anyway, here’s the transcript via NY Times:

Here’s some info on how it came about:

The Law of Leaks

Today is the day two story of the Flynn resignation and the White House wants us to focus on a different aspect of the story: the rampant leaks from the intelligence community.

But for perspective, let’s start off with Trump’s most interesting morning tweet:

Hmmmm.

During the campaign, Paul Manafort and Carter Page (Trump’s campaign manager and foreign policy adviser, respectively) were let go because of their Russia connections, and Mike Flynn (Trump’s national security adviser) was let go this week (due to “trust issues” says the White House, but trust issue surrounding his lying about speaking with Russia).

Seems like Trump is letting a lot of people go because of what he calls “FAKE NEWS”. And if the leaks are about “fake news”, I wonder why he’s calling them “leaks” at all. Is the intelligence community “leaking” secret information which are lies? Is that his point? There’s a bit of a disconnect there.

But Trump is on a rampage.

Ok.  Well, let’s talk about the price for leaking.

The cornerstone of anti-leak law is a provision of the Espionage Act of 1917, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 793, which criminalizes improperly accessing, handling, or transmitting “information respecting the national defense” with the intent of injuring the United States or aiding a foreign nation. Under Supreme Court precedent, “national defense information” is broadly defined and includes sensitive information relating not only to the military, but also to national security more generally. As Professor Patricia Bellia notes, while “the phrase ‘national defense information’ used throughout §§ 793 and 794 is not coterminous with the phrase ‘classified information,’” nevertheless “a document’s classification status could provide evidence that the document was closely held or that the document, if transmitted, would injure the United States or aid a foreign nation.”

Later amendments added 18 U.S.C. § 798, criminalizing the disclosure of various kinds of classified information including information “concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government.” Section 798 contains no explicit intent requirement: in order to violate that provision, one need only “knowingly and willfully” communicate the information. Notably, this is the provision of the law which FBI Director Comey famously determined Hillary Clinton did not violate, despite demands for prosecution from President Trump and other political opponents. While the law facially allows prosecution for mere gross negligence, in reality it does seem to require some degree of intent.

The other law that often forms the basis of leak prosecutions is the general theft statute at 18 U.S.C. § 641. This provision makes it a crime to steal, sell, or convey “any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof.” The federal courts of appeals differ on applying this statute to leaks of government information: while all of the circuits recognize the government’s property interest in records and documents (so if you physically steal actual records, the statute most certainly applies), some refuse to extend that to the underlying information contained in the records.

Other laws criminalize more specific leaks. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act, for instance, makes it a crime to reveal the identity of covert agents. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was indicted under this act and the Espionage Act for leaking classified information relating to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. He pled guilty in 2012 and was the first CIA officer to serve a prison sentence for leaking. This is also the substantive offense at the heart of the Plame affair, discussed below.

And beyond those substantive offenses criminalizing leaking itself, there’s the crime of making false statements. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, it is a felony offense to “knowingly and willfully . . . make[] a materially false” statement in the course of an investigation by any branch of the federal government. So if you lie about a material fact in the course of a leak investigation (see more below on investigations), you’ve committed another substantive felony, and one that is very frequently prosecuted.

This provision is used far more frequently than the others, in part because of the aggravating nature of lying to law enforcement and in part because the offense is easier to prove. As the saying goes, it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.

For example, the high-profile leak investigation of the naming of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame might have involved the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, but prosecutors ended up indicting Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, on multiple counts of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements. As The Washington Post reported at the time, the U.S. Attorney on the case “noted that proving illegal disclosure of classified information under various federal statutes is difficult,” in part because many require proving specific knowledge or intent.

Besides criminal violations, the government also employs non-disclosure agreements.  Often these involve pre-publication review: if you are a former intelligence officer, and you’re writing an article or book, you need to run it by the intelligence agency per the NDA.

Aaaaand that’s it, really.

Here’s something else worthy of note: leak investigations are overseen by DOJ’s National Security Division and conducted by the FBI. In a 2006 interview, David Szady, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, outlined how leak investigations proceed. First, the “victim agency” (the owner of the classified material) refers the matter to the Department of Justice, who decides whether to open an investigation. Importantly, investigations are opened only when the leaked information is accurate—that is, the mere fact of an investigation is an indirect confirmation of the accuracy of the leak. DOJ then sends the file to the FBI, who conducts the actual investigation, typically reviewing documentation and signals intelligence but sometimes through interviews and polygraphs.

There is something troubling about the intelligence agencies working against the President as many Democrats and Republicans have pointed out.  I certainly agree, but this does not strike me as an all-out war between the intelligence community against Trump.

It is certainly not a slow-motion coup d’etat as some say.  And look, If the information about the Trump campaign’s apparent collusion with the Russians were not leaked, it would have been smothered and covered up. Congress refused to act. The Department of Justice has shown zero interest. The president’s occasional remarks about the matter carry all the conviction of O.J. Simpson’s vow to search for the real killers.

What, exactly, were investigators supposed to do with their information if they did not share it with the public? Evidence that close associates of the current president of the United States had contacts with a hostile foreign-intelligence service is not a matter of purely historical interest. It’s not just a law-enforcement matter. The whistle blowers are blowing whistles, at immense professional and legal risk to themselves, because the people in charge of protecting the system against foreign spy penetration are themselves implicated in that penetration.

Besides, if they could bury Trump, they would have done so long before the election.  And even as it related to Flynn — when they knew Flynn was lying to Veep Pence about his Russia contacts, they went to Obama (still President) and THEN TO TRUMP.  That doesn’t sound like an intelligence community out to subvert President Trump.  In fact, Trump seems to have his own feud with the intelligence community, often degrading their “intelligence” by using quotation marks (as I just did).

During the campaign, Trump often bragged that he had better intelligence than the generals, a comment that was dismissed as bizarre.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps Trump has been the beneficiary of Russian intelligence (although its accuracy has yet to be determined).  Perhaps Trump is the Manchurian candidate who doesn’t know he is Manchurian.

Last Night’s Bombshell: Trump Campaign Advisers Talked With Russia Throughout The Campaign

The New York Times broke the story at 9:11 pm EST.

(Obviously, the story is longer than that).

The first two paragraphs are the bombshell; the third one there is an important caveat.

In some ways, it is not news — in a largely ignored story from November, CNN reported that Russia said it was in contact with Trump campaign aides.  But what might be news last night was the level of contacts.

When that is coupled with the knowledge throughout the campaign that Russia was behind the DNC hacks — well, it doesn’t look good.

It also doesn’t look good that the Trump administration has repeatedly denied these contacts.  For example, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said this back in a December appearance on “Face the Nation” with John Dickerson:

DICKERSON: Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?

CONWAY: Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous and it does undermine our democracy.

For his part, Trump is trying to make this all about leaks, but as I’ve said in another post, that argument (coming from Trump’s White House) is laughable.  As for the Russia connections, Trumps tweets call them “conspiracy theories” (again, an ironic phrase coming from Trump)

The NYT article and these series of tweets — these are historic documents.  Or will be, I think.

It wasn’t just the Times. CNN also weighed in with a similar investigation, reporting that “high-level advisers close to” Trump were in “constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence.”

CNN added a new wrinkle — that Trump had been briefed on this after the election.

If that last detail is true, then it means Trump knows that intelligence officials have, indeed, concluded that this happened. Which might explain why some of his tweets today sort of function as confirmation of the stories, by blasting intel agencies for leaking classified information.

If Trump is not embedded in the wrongdoing, all this is certainly making him look stupid, childish and weak.  From The Plum Line:

Indeed, the lashing out is beginning to look less and less fearsome, and more and more impulsively buffoonish and self-defeating. And there’s a broader pattern developing here, one that undermines a key narrative about the Trump presidency, in which Trump is pursuing strategic disruption and breaking all the old rules and norms to further an unconventional presidency that is designed to render the old way of doing business irrelevant. It’s obvious that all of this is now actively undermining his own designs, on multiple fronts.

Consider: The use of the White House bully pulpit by Trump and his top aides to interfere in a dispute between Nordstrom and Ivanka Trump — which seemed intended as a big middle finger to the pointy-headed ethical norms police — resulted in Republicans condemning it. The trip to Mar-a-Lago with the Japanese prime minister — another intended sign that Trump will damn well use the presidency to enrich himself if he pleases, by turning his own resort into an official court of sorts while pocketing the profits from it — ended up getting marred by the surprise North Korea ballistic missile test. This made his administration look incompetent, chaotic, unprepared and unconcerned about basic security protocol.

The administration’s handling of the Michael Flynn fiasco was a mess that was partially created by Trump himself. We now know he had been briefed three weeks ago that the Justice Department concluded Flynn had misled Vice President Pence about contacts with the Russian ambassador. Yet Flynn remained, and new reporting indicates that this was driven in part because of high-level White House skepticism about the Justice Department’s warnings — something that likely emanated from Trump himself. The botched rollout of Trump’s travel ban — the first high-level exercise in translating Trumpism into reality — was a legal and substantive disaster, largely because of a lack of concern over basic legal and process niceties that also reflected Trump’s evolving leadership style.

Meanwhile, today’s events are a reminder that the press is bearing down hard on the Russia story, which may make it harder and harder for Republicans to continue resisting a full accounting.

To be sure, Trump is getting a lot of his Cabinet nominees confirmed. It’s likely that Trump and Republicans will win a lot of victories before long, ones that will be very demoralizing to Democrats. It is also true that the White House has at its disposal a tremendous range of tools to take control of events and news cycles, thus turning things around. So all of this might change soon enough. A doubling-down on Trump’s worst policies, perhaps in the form of a newly implemented and then expanded “Muslim ban,” or in the form of stepped-up deportations, remain real possibilities. A terrorist attack could empower Trump and lead to far worse.

But right now, Trump looks weaker, less effective and even more ridiculous than anyone might have anticipated — and it happened surprisingly quickly, too.

Lot Of Hypocrisy About Leaks

The Pentagon Papers was a leak from Daniel Ellsberg. It helped de-legitimize the Vietnam War.

Deep Throat was Mark Felt, a top FBI official. He gave Woodward and Bernstein the deep background on the Watergate scandal.

Edward Snowden leaked information about US government surveillance programs.

Chelsea Manning leaked documents and video relating to Iraqi air strikes, diplomatic cables, and Gitmo, most of which did not put the US in good light.

Vice President Cheney outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative in order to exact revenge on her husband, a critic of the Bush Iraq War policy.

To most people, one of more of these people are heroes — one of the “good guys”.  But they were all leakers.

Everybody constructs reasons for leaks they like and leaks they don’t like. But it is hard to come up with a non-hypocritical reason for distinguishing “good leaks” from “bad leaks”.

We’re at a remarkable point in history where the president accuses his own intelligence community of working against him, as exhibited by his tweetstorm this morning:

What sounds hollow about all this is that Trump was totally fine — in fact he PRAISED — Wikileaks when it printed the John Podesta emails.

I know, I know. The Podesta emails weren’t technically leaks.  They were hacks by the Russians.  But doesn’t that make it WORSE?  Think about it.  The President is fine with Russian intelligence stealing secured information and making it public — in fact he encouraged it! — but he’s upset about “illegal” leaks from American intelligence sources?

It really does beg the question — whose side is the President on?  At best, it cements the notion that he is in the pocket of Russia.

Flynn Exit

So… less than a month into the Administration, Trumps’ National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, resigns.  WHY he resigned is important — he said (in a letter) that he regrets giving incomplete information to the Vice President.

Ummm…. interesting way to put it.

Another way to put it is… Flynn LIED to the Vice President.  And yet an even better way to put it is…. Flynn lied to the Vice President about whether or not he spoke to the Russians and told them to ignore Obama’s sanctions.

And yet another way to put it is…. Flynn opened himself to blackmail by the Russians for the having a conversation in violation of the Logan Act with Russians about Obama’s sanctions, and the White House knew about it as far back as a month ago…. and did nothing!

The White House would like to leave it at “Flynn lied to the Veep and that’s bad, but now he’s gone, so let’s move on.”

But lying to Pence is NOT the story.  The story is what he lied to Pence ABOUT.

And it is about how acting AG Sally Yates informed WH counsel Don McGahn about Flynn’s vulnerability because he lied to Pence.

Aaaaaaand as I write this, Trump just tweeted another attempt at diversion:

Bzzzzzt.  I’m sorry. The leaks are not the “real story” either (and by the way, if the leaks ARE the problem, you’re still at fault, Donald.  It’s your administration!)

And it looks like congressional Republicans are ready to move on, too….

No, no, no.  This is not over. There are some very important open questions (from WaPo):

1. What, if anything, did Trump authorize Flynn to tell the Russians before his inauguration?

2. Why was Trump planning to stand by Flynn? “One senior White House official said that Trump did not fire Flynn; rather, Flynn made the decision to resign on his own late Monday evening because of what this official said was ‘the cumulative effect’ of damaging news coverage about his conversations with the Russian envoy,” Greg Miller and Philip Rucker report. “This official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the situation, said Trump does not relish firing people — despite his television persona on ‘The Apprentice’ — and had intended to wait several more days before deciding whether to seek Flynn’s resignation. ‘There obviously were a lot of issues, but the president was hanging in there,’ this official said.”

3. What did White House counsel Donald McGahn do after the then-acting attorney general notified him last month that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail? “In the waning days of the Obama administration, James R. Clapper Jr., who was the director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, shared (Sally) Yates’s concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House,” Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Philip Rucker report. “They feared that ‘Flynn had put himself in a compromising position’ and thought that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled. … Yates, then the deputy attorney general, considered Flynn’s comments in the intercepted call to be ‘highly significant’ and ‘potentially illegal,’ according to an official familiar with her thinking. … A senior Trump administration official said before Flynn’s resignation that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that ‘we’ve been working on this for weeks.’”

Yates was accompanied by a senior career national security official when she alerted McGahn. What we don’t know is who McGahn subsequently shared that information with and what he did after the meeting. He didn’t respond to a request for comment last night from my colleagues.

“It’s unimaginable that the White House general counsel would sit on it (and) not tell anybody else in the White House,” said David Gergen, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations. “In every White House I’ve ever been in, this would go to the president like that,” he added during an interview on CNN, snapping his fingers.

If McGahn did indeed tell others, especially the president, how come Flynn kept his job until last night?

4. What is the status of the FBI investigation into possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia? FBI Director James B. Comey initially opposed Yates notifying McGahn, citing concerns that it could complicate the bureau’s ongoing investigation. “A turning point came after Jan. 23, when (Sean) Spicer, in his first official media briefing, again was asked about Flynn’s communications with (Ambassador Sergey) Kislyak,” Adam, Ellen and Phil report. “Spicer said that he had talked to Flynn about the issue ‘again last night.’ There was just ‘one call,’ Spicer said. And it covered four subjects: a plane crash that claimed the lives of a Russian military choir; Christmas greetings; Russian-led talks over the Syrian civil war; and the logistics of setting up a call between Putin and Trump. Spicer said that was the extent of the conversation. Yates again raised the issue with Comey, who now backed away from his opposition to informing the White House.” Yates then spoke to McGahn.

5. Will Flynn face prosecution under the Logan Act? Yates and other intelligence officials suspected that Flynn could be in violation of the obscure 1799 statute, which bars U.S. citizens from interfering in diplomatic disputes with another country. But no one has ever been prosecuted under that law, so it is very, very unlikely.

Another mitigating factor: Jeff Sessions got confirmed as attorney general despite refusing to commit to recuse himself from DOJ inquiries into Trump and other administration officials.

6. What will the Senate Intelligence Committee uncover about contacts Flynn and others affiliated with Trump had with Russia before the election? U.S. intelligence reports during the 2016 campaign showed that Kislyak was in touch with Flynn, several sources have said. Communications between the two continued after Nov. 8. The Russian ambassador has even confirmed having contacts with Flynn before and after the election, though he declined to say what was discussed.

The committee led by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is continuing to explore Russian efforts to interfere with the election, including the intelligence community’s assessment that the Kremlin was attempting to tilt the election to Trump. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the committee, told reporters a few hours before Flynn resigned that his contacts with the Russian ambassador are part of the bipartisan inquiry. “This and anything else that involves the Russians,” Rubio said, per Kelsey Snell. “We’re going to go wherever the truth leads us.”

7. Who exactly is in charge at the White House? Yesterday was just the latest illustration of the chaos and dysfunction that plague the infant administration. Officials found themselves in an uncomfortable holding pattern for much of Monday, unsure about whether to defend Flynn and privately grumbling about the president’s indecisiveness.

“After Trump made it through a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau without being asked about Flynn, a group of reporters gathered outside Spicer’s office for more than 80 minutes,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report. “Spicer twice declined to answer questions about Flynn. When chief of staff Reince Priebus walked by, he was asked whether the president still had confidence in Flynn. Priebus gave no answer. Then, a few minutes later, Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, declared on MSNBC that Trump had ‘full confidence’ in Flynn. Yet a few minutes later after that, Spicer issued an official — and conflicting — statement, saying Trump was ‘evaluating the situation.’” A few hours after that, Flynn was gone.

Conservative columnist Michael Gerson, a veteran of George W. Bush’s White House, opens his column today with a damning anecdote: Last month, Paul Ryan met with a delegation from the president-elect on tax reform. Attending were Priebus, Conway, Stephen K. Bannon, Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller. As the meeting began, Ryan pointedly asked, “Who’s in charge?” There was silence.

“It is still the right question,” Michael writes. “Former officials with deep knowledge of the presidency describe Trump’s White House staff as top-heavy, with five or six power centers and little vertical structure. ‘The desire to be a big shot is overrunning any sense of team,’ says one experienced Republican. ‘This will cause terrible dysfunction, distraction, disloyalty and leaks.’”

One yuge area of concern for me — Trump’s tweet above.  He (i.e., Bannon) might use this scandal to exert tighter control over the intelligence community.  Maybe even purge the non-Trumpians.  Then his power would be consolidated.

UPDATE: This isn’t good —

Executive privilege is something the PRESIDENT asserts, not the investigative body. It does not hurt to inquire.

and this:

So the Oversight Committee isn’t looking into it, and the Intelligence Committee isn’t looking into it.  We have no oversight now.

On the other hand:

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told House Democrats Tuesday that the recent revelations about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s conversations with the Russians are only the beginning, and more information will surface in the coming days, according to multiple sources in a closed party meeting.

Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also said that any conversations that Flynn had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Donald Trump took office would not be covered by executive privilege, potentially making some information subject to congressional investigations. Republicans have so far balked at probing this matter.

Will this be swept under the rug, or will it be a slow drip?  I think (and hope) that latter.

LATER UPDATE:

EVEN LATER UPDATE — Spicer just gave his daily press conference, and we learned the White House take on this.  I suspect some of these claims will not hold up:

1. Spicer denied that Flynn or any other campaign officials were in touch with Russian government officials during the campaign. yes, during transition, but not during campaign.  He has a problem here in that this is flatly contradicted in multiple press reports.

2. Spicer insists that President Trump instinctively knew that what Gen. Flynn did was not wrong and his White House Counsel confirmed this for him.  I have a feeling White House Counsel’s view might come under more scrutiny.

3. Spicer claims that the President did not instruct Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian Ambassador. “No, absolutely not. No, no, no – no” was Spicer’s response.  Interesting though, because if what Flynn did was not wrong (according to Trump), then what would have been the problem if Trump DID tell Flynn to do it?

4. Spicer says that President Trump was not aware of the Flynn/Russia discussions when they happened and only learned of them after the DOJ briefed the White House Counsel.

In other words, Flynn lied to Pence about something insignificant and not illegal, and that’s why Trump could no longer trust him.

Does that make sense to anyone?

But there’s more, starting with Spicer’s timeline:

Flynn said in mid-January that he not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. On January 15, Vice President Mike Pence went on CBS and repeated that. According to Spicer, White House Counsel Don McGahn heard from then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on January 26 about evidence that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak, despite his denials. McGahn then brought the matter to Trump, who asked whether Flynn had broken the law. McGahn reported back that he did not think Flynn had broken the law.

According to Spicer, Trump then gradually lost trust in Flynn, over the period between January 26 and February 13, in what Spicer called “an evolving and eroding process.” He couldn’t say whether Flynn had intended to mislead Pence and others.

“I don’t know that it was intentional,” Spicer said. “He may have just forgotten [that he discussed the sanctions]. At some point that trust eroded to the point that the president did not feel comfortable and asked for an received his resignation.” He added that when Trump “thought it was time for a decision, he immediately made it.”

But the question is why Trump thought that Monday night was the time for a decision. After all, some three weeks passed between Yates’s call to McGahn and the actual firing. Spicer criticized the Justice Department for informing the White House of its suspicions about Flynn sooner, but it’s hard to square that criticism with the lengthy dithering the White House went through. If Trump had known about the calls 10 days earlier, moving his decision up by 10 days, that still would have been two weeks into his presidency.

Spicer wouldn’t say what made Trump change his mind about his national security adviser, who was a close ally during the campaign and spoke at the Republican National Convention, or why it took so long. Spicer said, somewhat cryptically, that the change was based on “this and a series of issues,” without elaborating.

Yet that, too, presents some contradictions with what was publicly known. If what Spicer says is true, Flynn continued lying about his conversations with Kislyak, telling The Washington Post as late as Wednesday that he had not discussed the sanctions with the Russian. If the White House knew that was untrue, why did it allow Flynn to reiterate it? Finally, on Thursday, Flynn admitted to the Post that he might have discussed the sanctions, though he could not recall for sure. On Friday, while flying to Mar-a-Lago, Trump was asked by a reporter about The Washington Post report including Flynn’s admission. The president answered as though he had no idea what was being asked. Spicer defended that by saying that Trump simply had not read the Post article, but Trump’s response is strange if he’d known for weeks that Flynn had misled.

Spicer’s story of Trump gradually losing trust in Flynn is at also at odds with a statement from Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway Monday afternoon that Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn. Spicer and Conway’s accounts can’t both be true, though whether that’s a product of chaos or spin is unclear.

Perhaps the most troubling element of Spicer’s account is that if taken at face value, it makes it appear that Trump was for a time relatively untroubled by the fact that Flynn had misled both the vice president of the United States and, through him, the American people. For three weeks, he allowed Flynn to remain in his post as his top security aide. It was only when it became public that Flynn had misled Pence and the people that Trump moved and decided Flynn had to go. The worrisome implication is that Trump was OK with Flynn’s dissembling until anyone knew about it, which calls into question the White House’s honesty on other accounts. As Sean Spicer might put, it’s a matter of trust.

And hey. If Trump was informed about Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, and referred the matter to White House counsel, then why was Flynn allowed to sit in classified security meetings in the interim?
Tomorrow, the White House will try to say “asked and answered” to everything.  But will that satisfy the press?  (Hint: it shouldn’t)

Inside The White House

Apparently, Trump is learning you can’t run the government like you run a family business.  You know why? Checks and balances.  Civics 101.  (I could have told him that years ago, but he didn’t ask me)

Being president is harder than Donald Trump thought, according to aides and allies who say that he’s growing increasingly frustrated with the challenges of running the massive federal bureaucracy.

In interviews, nearly two dozen people who’ve spent time with Trump in the three weeks since his inauguration said that his mood has careened between surprise and anger as he’s faced the predictable realities of governing, from congressional delays over his cabinet nominations and legal fights holding up his aggressive initiatives to staff in-fighting and leaks.

The administration’s rocky opening days have been a setback for a president who, as a billionaire businessman, sold himself to voters as being uniquely qualified to fix what ailed the nation. Yet it has become apparent, say those close to the president, most of whom requested anonymity to describe the inner workings of the White House, that the transition from overseeing a family business to running the country has been tough on him.

Trump often asks simple questions about policies, proposals and personnel. And, when discussions get bogged down in details, the president has been known to quickly change the subject — to “seem in control at all times,” one senior government official said — or direct questions about details to his chief strategist Steve Bannon, his son-in-law Jared Kushner or House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump has privately expressed disbelief over the ability of judges, bureaucrats or lawmakers to delay — or even stop — him from filling positions and implementing policies.

Trump, of course, is not going to blame his ignorance.  Instead, he blames leaks and infighting.

After Trump grew infuriated by disclosures of his confrontational phone calls with foreign leaders, an investigation was launched into the source of the leaks, according to one White House aide. National Security Council staffers have been instructed to cooperate with inquiries, including requests to inspect their electronic communications, said two sources familiar with the situation. It’s not clear whether the investigation is a formal proceeding, how far along it is or who is conducting it.

The administration is considering limiting the universe of aides with access to the calls or their transcripts, said one administration official, adding that the leaks — and Trump’s anger over them — had created a climate where people are “very careful who they talk to.”

The president and his allies believe career NSC staff assigned from other agencies are out to get them. In turn, some NSC staff believe Trump does not possess the capacity for detail and nuance required to handle the sensitive issues discussed on the calls, and that he has politicized their agency by appointing chief strategist Bannon to the council.

Last week, Trump told an associate he had become weary of in-fighting among — and leaks from — his White House staff “because it reflects on me,” and that he intended to sit down staffers to tell them “to cut this shit out.”

Well, leaks and in-fighting IS a problem with this White House, but that’s what happens when you have a weak and un-engaged figurehead as a President.  Everyone jockeys to fill the void.

Obviously, a change needs to happen and it looks like everyone is kissing up to Kushner.  It’s probably too soon for Trump Administration 2.0, but it is coming.

 

Redstate’s Patterico’s Analysis of the 9th Circuit Decision Against Trump

Don’t normally quote from the conservative Redstate blog, and I rarely agree with Patterico (the author) on anything.  But this analysis is so good — so spot on — that I am reprinting it in full:

As you have no doubt heard, the Ninth Circuit today issued an opinion upholding the District Court’s TRO halting much of Trump’s order on immigration. This post analyzes the decision, which can be read here. Throughout, I’ll grade my own previous predictionsabout the ruling.

My overall impression is that this is a sound legal ruling — and that Donald Trump is personally to blame for it. By allowing Steve Bannon & Co. to write the order in a sloppy and overbroad manner, and further allowing them to decide that it applied to green card holders, Trump issued an the order that was bound to fail.

Perusing Twitter tonight, I see that many people who support the policy behind the order (as I do), but who have not followed the legal arguments closely, are saying this is just another leftist Ninth Circuit decision. But the order is a unanimous “per curiam” (through the court) ruling. It was joined by a judge appointed by George W. Bush who, at oral argument, expressed skepticism towards the idea that the order was motivated by religious bias, and seemed receptive to the argument that these countries might pose a threat.

The Twitter lawyers point out that this was not a ruling on the merits — and that’s right . . . but the merits still factored into the decision. A subtle point — brought up in the oral argument but missed by many observers — is that once the District Court entered the injunction, the burden shifted to the Government to show on appeal that it was likely to win in the trial court. The Court held that the Government had failed to make that showing. This portion of the ruling, then, does relate to the merits. The Court also held that the Government failed to show irreparable injury, since the TRO put the U.S. back in the same state of affairs that had existed for years.

According to the opinion, the executive order’s principal potential flaw was that it may have deprived a substantial number of people of due process, in three ways (the following paragraph describes the states’ arguments, which the Government failed to rebut for purposes of this appeal):

First, section 3(c) denies re-entry to certain lawful permanent residents and non-immigrant visaholders without constitutionally sufficient notice and an opportunity to respond. Second, section 3(c) prohibits certain lawful permanent residents and non-immigrant visaholders from exercising their separate and independent constitutionally protected liberty interests in travelling abroad and thereafter re-entering the United States. Third, section 5 contravenes the procedures provided by federal statute for refugees seeking asylum and related relief in the United States.

The decision to interpret the order as applying to lawful permanent residents was reportedly made by Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. This was clearly the most troubling aspect of the order to the judges — as well as the aspect of the order that stood out to most objective observers as the dumbest part of the order. As I said in my analysis of the oral argument: “I think even Judge Clifton would be on board with staying the executive order to the extent it applies to LPRs [lawful permanent residents].” What I didn’t predict outright was that Judge Clifton would find this enough to join an opinion upholding the entire TRO; I had expected that he would file a concurring opinion agreeing that the TRO was appropriate as applied to LPRs, but only as to LPRs.

The Government argued that the issue of the application of the executive order to LPRs was moot, because the White House counsel had interpreted the order as not covering LPRs. But the court was not convinced, noting that the White House counsel is not the President — and, since the Administration had given so many contradictory statements on this point, nobody can be certain that they won’t apply it to green card holders again:

[I]n light of the Government’s shifting interpretations of the Executive Order, we cannot say that the current interpretation by White House counsel, even if authoritative and binding, will persist past the immediate stage of these proceedings

Basically, the court said the order is clearly illegal in denying re-entry to LPRs and non-immigrant visa holders, and they aren’t going to rewrite the order (or let the White House counsel rewrite it) to conform to the law. That’s the President’s job. The court said that the Government’s different proposals for limiting the scope of the TRO still resulted in potential due process violations.

The lack of due process for LPRs was the central aspect of the opinion, and it was completely avoidable. The fault lies with Donald Trump.

As to the argument that Trump was targeting Muslims, the Court’s language seemed carefully crafted to maintain the unanimous nature of the opinion. I predicted there were two votes for a finding of possible religious discrimination, based on Trump’s repeated statements during the campaign that he wanted a Muslim ban — but Judge Clifton was clearly skeptical of this claim. The Court dealt with this by saying: “The States’ claims raise serious allegations and present significant constitutional questions” (language clearly inserted by Judges Canby and Friedland) but refused to use this as a ground to uphold the TRO, instead reserving the issue for later, after further litigation in the District Court (an evident concession to Judge Clifton to get him on board with this opinion).

This means that Donald Trump’s mouthing off about a Muslim ban wasn’t the reason for today’s decision — but it could still have legal consequences down the line.

In other aspects more of interest to lawyers than others, the court (as predicted) found standing based on the states’ proprietary interests, and treated the injunction as an appealable preliminary injunction rather than a TRO proper, because of the length of the briefing schedule. (These are also aspects I predicted correctly based on the oral arguments.)

In summary, this is a solid legal opinion and I don’t see it being reversed by the Ninth Circuit en banc or by the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges did their jobs and they did them well. They won’t get a lot of credit for this from political partisans, but they’ll get it from me.

Yup.

Redstate by the way is now a conservative blog in exile. In a world of Brietbarts and Infowars, it remains a bastion of logical reasoned conservatism.  It is a credible opposition to the progressivism that I espouse — with emphasis on the word “credible”.

Here, for posterity’s sake, is the full opinion:

It’s Hard To Keep Up With All That’s Going Down

Just yesterday — on ONE day…

Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway broke ethics rules promoting Ivanka Trump clothes, which wouldn’t have happened if Trump hadn’t tweeted about how unfairly Nordstrom’s was treating Ivanka Trump by dropping her line of clothing.

Then we learned that Trump, when talking to Putin last week, had to put Putin on hold in order to ask his advisors what the New START treaty was. Then he got back on the phone and told Putin the New START treaty was a “bad deal”.

Later, Trump lost an appeal of his temporary travel ban. He tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT” apparently unaware that he just lost in court.

Then the “failing” New York Times reported that China hasn’t been taking our phone calls because of Trump’s faux pax with Taiwan back in November.

Then, the Washington Post informed us, in a heavily-sourced story, that General Flynn, Trump’s closest military advisor, discussed sanctions with Russia while Obama was President, which is illegal. And then he lied about it. Many times.

So, that was yesterday.

The Flynn matter is dominating the news this morning. It’s really looks bad for Flynn:

National security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.”

On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

(Emphasis mine).

Clearly, Flynn got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  That’s the only reason why he would back away from a denial.  Also, Mike Pence had gone to bat for him…

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News last month, noting that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence also made a more sweeping assertion, saying there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said, “is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

…. and he is not about to take the fall.

This isn’t a he said, she said.

Neither of those assertions is consistent with the fuller account of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats. Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.

An administration official stressed that Pence made his comments based on his conversation with Flynn. The sanctions in question have so far remained in place.

You have to wonder how stupid Flynn must be.  As a former intelligence officer, he should have know his communications with the Russians would be monitored.  There was no way he could get away with that lie.  As Mother Jones says:

UPDATE:

– END UPDATE –
The question now is…. will Trump stand by him, or throw him under a bus (where he belongs)?

His hand my be forced by public opinion (that is, assuming Trump believes in public opinion, which I doubt).  Here’s the latest from PPP.  I reprint it in its entirety because it shows just how Trump is losing popular opinion on almost every front — foreign policy, the “ban”, the “wall”, transparency, etc.:

PPP’s new national poll finds that Donald Trump’s popularity as President has declined precipitously just over the last two weeks. On our first poll of his Presidency voters were evenly divided on Trump, with 44% approving of him and 44% also disapproving. Now his approval rating is 43%, while his disapproval has gone all the way up to 53%. If voters could choose they’d rather have both Barack Obama (52/44) or Hillary Clinton (49/45) instead of Trump.

Just three weeks into his administration, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump with 46% in favor and 46% opposed. Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35% 2 weeks ago, to 40% last week, to its 46% standing this week. While Clinton voters initially only supported Trump’s impeachment 65/14, after seeing him in office over the last few weeks that’s gone up already to 83/6.

Here are the reasons things are going bad for Trump:

-Voters think he’s over reaching to make a country safe…that they already consider to be safe. 66% of Americans consider the United States to be a safe country, to only 23% who consider it unsafe. Perhaps as an outgrowth of that sentiment only 45% of voters support Trump’s Executive Order on immigration, to 49% who are opposed to it. Among those who do support it you have to wonder how well thought out their position is- by a 51/23 margin Trump voters say that the Bowling Green Massacre shows why Trump’s immigration policy is needed.

By a 48/43 spread, voters do think that the intent of the Executive Order is to be a Muslim ban. And just 22% support a Muslim ban, to 65% who are opposed. The order has also increasingly raised issues about Trump’s competence in voters’ eyes- only 27% think the Executive Order was well executed, to 66% who think it was poorly executed. The spread on that question was 39/55 when we asked last week.

Another aspect of voters already feeling safe is that they don’t want to pay for the wall with Mexico. Just 32% support a 20% tax on items imported to the United States from Mexico, to 55% who are opposed to that concept. And in general only 37% of voters want the wall if US taxpayers have to front the cost for it, to 56% who are against that.

-Voters are concerned by the implications of Trump’s fight with the Judiciary. 53% of voters say they trust Judges more to make the right decisions for the United States, to only 38% who trust Trump more. And only 25% of voters think Trump should be able to overturn decisions by Judges that he disagrees with, to 64% who don’t think he should be able to do that. Trump voters have evidently had enough of the Constitution and those pesky checks and balances though- 51% of them think he should personally be able to overturn decisions he doesn’t agree with, to only 33% who dissent.

-Voters don’t like the people Trump has surrounded himself with. Betsy DeVos may have been confirmed this week, but she made a horrible impression on the public. Only 27% of voters see her positively to 49% with a negative opinion of her. Clinton voters are almost unanimous in their distaste for her (5/83 favorability), while she doesn’t generate nearly an equivalent amount of enthusiasm from Trump voters (53/12 favorability.) Other people close to Trump have come off poorly as well- Steve Bannon has a 22/45 favorability rating, Kellyanne Conway’s is 34/47, and Sean Spicer’s is 32/41.

-Voters continue to have a lot of basic transparency concerns when it comes to Trump. 62% think he needs to fully divest himself from his business interests, to only 27% who don’t think it’s necessary for him to do that. And 58% want him to release his tax returns, to just 31% who don’t think he needs to. In fact by a 53/32 spread, voters would support a law requiring that candidates for President release 5 years of their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot.

-Voters are concerned that in the realm of foreign policy, Trump likes who they don’t like and doesn’t like who they do like. Trump has antagonized Australia, which Americans give a 76/5 favorability rating. Meanwhile he has been warm to Russia, which Americans give a 13/63 favorability rating. He’s threatened to invade Mexico- a course that only 7% of voters support while 83% oppose it- while making nice comments about Vladimir Putin, who Americans give a 10/72 favorability to.-Voters are concerned about Trump taking away Obamacare. 47% of voters now say they support the Affordable Care Act to only 39% who are opposed. It just keeps getting more popular. And only 32% think the best course of action to take on health care is repealing the ACA, while 65% would like Congress to keep it and just fix parts that need fixing.

-Voters are increasingly taking the media’s side in his fights with them. The New York Times has repeatedly been a target of Trump’s attacks, but voters say they think the Times had more credibility than them 52/37. Trump seems to be losing ground in that conflict- he was only down 51/42 a week ago. The Presidency has been so diminished over the last 3 weeks that voters even say Saturday Night Live has more credibility than Trump, 48/43.

On another note it was unclear last week whether Donald Trump really knew who Frederick Douglass was, and it turns out that puts him in pretty good alignment with his party base. Only 47% of Trump voters know that Frederick Douglass is dead, compared to 78% of Clinton voters who know that. Even though they evidently need it, Trump voters aren’t very excited about Black History Month. Only 45% of them have a favorable opinion of it, to 35% with a negative one. By contrast it’s 81/9 for Clinton voters. And in yet another measure of the terrible economic anxiety gripping Trump voters though, 46% of them think there should be a White History Month to 36% opposed to that concept. They may not get far with that though, since only 28% of voters overall are in favor of such a thing to 58% opposed.

Finally we continue to find that unhappiness with Trump- and with Congressional Republicans- could help Democrats to make big gains in 2018. Democrats lead 49/41 on the generic Congressional ballot. That’s partially a product of Trump’s unpopularity but also an outgrowth of Paul Ryan (35/47 approval), Mitch McConnell (23/52 approval), and Congress as a whole (16/68 approval) being unpopular in their own rights.

Emphasis in original.

While this confirms that Trump is generally doing down down down, here’s what jumped out at me:

Among those who do support it you have to wonder how well thought out their position is- by a 51/23 margin Trump voters say that the Bowling Green Massacre shows why Trump’s immigration policy is needed.

And of course, there never WAS a Bowling Green Massacre.

In other words, most of Trump’s support – what little he has — comes from stupid and/or uninformed people.

For now, the Republican establishment (with a few exceptions) is not distancing itself from Trump, as this Tweet suggests.

But how long will that last?  GOP Congressman are returning back to their states, only to find angry voters at town hall meetings (they are cancelling them).  The GOP owns Trump now, and the longer they do, the better things looks for Dems.

(And I haven’t even brought up the Obamacare repeal yet!)

Things Fall Apart

Look, things in war don’t always go as planned.  I will be the first to say that. No mission is every 100% fool-proof.  But there are many aspects about the Yemeni mission, and Trump’s involvement in it, that are worrisome.

In case you haven’t followed this story, in the first week of his presidency, Donald Trump approved a raid on an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) compound in Yemen, and pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The team encountered strong resistance, Owens was killed, an Osprey aircraft was disabled in a “hard landing” and had to be destroyed so it wouldn’t fall into AQAP’s hands, and according to the Yemeni government, 15 civilians, including at least one child, were killed.

Then, making things worse, the Pentagon released a training video it had seized as evidence of the high-level intelligence the raid produced. But it turned out that the footage was ten years old and had been distributed on the internet some time ago. According to some reports, the true target of the raid was AQAP leader Qasim al-Rimi, who is now gleefully mocking the United States.

The failure has also compromised our ability to conduct further anti-terrorism missions in Yemen. Today the New York Times reported:

Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

In response to the publication of that article, the Yemeni foreign minister said that Yemen had not banned future missions but had asked for a “reassessment” of the raid on the 29th. Either way, it would seem that we’ll have a harder time getting Yemen to approve such missions in the future.

It’s too simplistic to just say, “This was Donald Trump’s fault.” The plan was devised and executed by the military, of course, and every military mission involves risk. But the ultimate decision is the President’s, and it’s his job to factor in all the relevant variables: What are the chances for the mission to succeed? What are the ramifications if it doesn’t? How do I weigh the different strands of information I’m receiving? What are the implications for American foreign policy?

A look at the way this decision was made is not encouraging. While the plan had been circulating within the Pentagon for a few months (there’s some dispute about whether it actually reached the Obama White House), it was approved by President Trump at a dinner that included not only the relevant national security personnel but also his senior adviser Steve Bannon and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. And check out this nugget from a report by NBC News:

After two months of military preparation increasingly focused on the opportunity to capture al-Rimi, Trump was told by Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that his capture would be a “game changer,” according to a senior White House official with direct knowledge of the discussions.

In making their case, they told Trump that they doubted that the Obama administration would have been bold enough to try it, this official said.

Now those are some fellows who knew their audience. This is where it gets troubling. Simply put, we’ve never seen a president who combined complete ignorance with rampaging overconfidence quite the way Trump does. Despite having no experience in military affairs or foreign policy, he claimed during the campaign that “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” and when asked whom he consulted on foreign policy, said, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lotta things.”

Trump also claimed to have personally devised a secret plan to defeat ISIS that he couldn’t reveal lest the terrorists learn what they were in for, though this was a transparent lie. When the subject came up he would say the most bellicose and simple-minded thing possible, often to the point of literally advocating war crimes: “I would bomb the s–t out of them,” or “I’d bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” or “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families.”

No evidence has emerged since then that Trump has anything other than an infantile conception of what being “strong” means. He continues to express his amazement that General Mattis, despite being an obvious tough guy, is opposed to the use of torture.

So anyone who wants Trump to approve a military mission understands that they need only describe it as tough or strong or bold, and there’s a good chance Trump will be won over. His general cluelessness is also something that the rest of his staff is learning to use for their own ends. Earlier this week the New York Times reported that Trump was angry “that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council.” So Trump apparently signed an order making Steve Bannon a member of the “principals committee” of the NSC — an unprecedented move — without having any idea what he was doing.

All this means trouble for the our country’s foreign policy.

And one would hope that Trump MIGHT — I say “might” — have learned a lesson from this mission failure.  But no.  He and Sean Spicer are spinning it as a success.  Which means, no lesson learned.

White House Staff Concerned That The President Is An Idiot

There are two stories in this HuffPo piece.  One of them is what Kevin Drum calls “liberal porn” — something that we progressives like to point to and laugh and how terrible our current president is.  So let’s get that part out of the way:

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that’s good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call ― except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn’s accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

Trump was not thrilled with that response ― but that may have been a function of the time of day. Trump had placed the call at 3 a.m., according to one of Flynn’s retellings ― although neither the White House nor Flynn’s office responded to requests for confirmation about that detail.

Okay. Ha. Ha.  Our President, the great businessman, doesn’t know whether a strong dollar is good or bad (true answer: it depends – a strong dollar has more buying power, but a weak dollar is good for boosting exports and reducing the trade deficit), and to find out, he asks his national security adviser, not an economist.

But to me, it’s what comes after that anecdote that is interesting:

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump’s 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president’s conduct.

“I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president.”

Whaaaaa?

Okay.  But that’s an outsider.  What about all the leaks?

While some of the leaks are based on opposition to his policies – the travel ban on all refugees and on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations, for instance – many appear motivated by a belief that Trump’s words, deeds and tweets pose a genuine threat.

When Trump tweeted about North Korea’s missile technology three weeks before he took office, for example, it scrambled then-President Barack Obama’s national security apparatus, which saw a risk in provoking an unstable young dictator who possessed nuclear weapons.

Richard Nephew, a State Department expert on Iran sanctions under Obama, said some of the leaks from the agencies are likely efforts to let the public know that their advice has not been followed, in the event something bad happens down the road. “This, I think, is about making it clear that these folks have tried to do the right thing and there is only so much they can do with a hostile administration,” Nephew said.

Hoooolllleeee shit!

At some point, the White House is going to have to crack down on the leaks.  And it will have to figure out who the leakers are.  THAT will be interesting.

The Kinda Crazy, Somewhat Uplifting, Complete Unprecedented Weekend Of Trump

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order that bans some refugees and immigrants from entering the US.

It hits ‘pause’ on Syrian refugees coming into the US. And also temporarily shuts the door on citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Initially, the ban even applied to people with valid visas or green cards. Over the weekend, at least 100 travelers were detained at airports across the country. Including an Iraqi man who once worked as an interpreter for the US gov. So the ACLU sued the White House. And a federal judge blocked anyone who was being held at US airports from being deported. Thousands of people protested across the country, especially at airports.

That the ban may be unconstitutional because it could violate religious freedoms. See: prioritizing letting in Christian refugees coming from places like Syria. Plus, some experts say the order won’t help protect the US, since people from these banned countries aren’t the ones who have carried out deadly attacks in America in recent years. And some people — including GOP lawmakers — say Trump’s move might end up helping terrorist groups recruit more members in the future.

The ban still stands. But the White House has backtracked juussst a little bit. Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that green card holders aren’t affected by the ban. Meanwhile, more than a dozen Attorneys General are saying ‘see you in court, Mr. President.’

America is a country built by immigrants and religious freedom is a constitutional right. Even though Trump said yesterday that the US has always been the “land of the free,” his moves have some people worried that the founding principles of the US could be at risk.

The ban is arbitrary, which is a nice way of saying it has no basis in reality.  Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.

Zero.

Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period — so we HAVE been catching them.

And more than that, it actually CREATES a security risk…

Oh, but that wasn’t all.

(1) Reince Priebus issued a statement that the omission of Jews from the statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day was deliberate and is not regretted.

(2) Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the intent of yesterday’s order was very much a ban on Muslims, described in those words, and he was among the people Trump asked how they could find a way to do this legally.

(3) CNN has a detailed story (heavily sourced) about the process by which this ban was created and announced. Notable in this is that the DHS’ lawyers objected to the order, specifically its exclusion of green card holders, as illegal, and also pressed for there to be a grace period so that people currently out of the country wouldn’t be stranded — and they were personally overruled by Bannon and Stephen Miller. Also notable is that career DHS staff, up to and including the head of Customs & Border Patrol, were kept entirely out of the loop until the order was signed.

(4) The Guardian is reporting (heavily sourced) that the “mass resignations”of nearly all senior staff at the State Department on Thursday were not, in fact, resignations, but a purge ordered by the White House. As the diagram below (by Emily Roslin v Praze) shows, this leaves almost nobody in the entire senior staff of the State Department at this point.

The seniormost staff of the Department of State. Blue X’s are unfilled positions; red X’s are positions which were purged. Note that the “filled” positions are not actually confirmed yet.

As the Guardian points out, this has an important and likely not accidental effect: it leaves the State Department entirely unstaffed during these critical first weeks, when orders like the Muslim ban (which they would normally resist) are coming down.

The article points out another point worth highlighting: “In the past, the state department has been asked to set up early foreign contacts for an incoming administration. This time however it has been bypassed, and Trump’s immediate circle of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus are making their own calls.”

(5) Yesterday witnessed a reorganization of the National Security Council: Bannon and Priebus now have permanent seats on the Principals’ Committee; the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both been demoted to only attending meetings where they are told that their expertise is relevant; the Secretary of Energy and the US representative to the UN were kicked off the committee altogether (in defiance of the authorizing statute, incidentally).

All of this is objectively horrific, but there are some silver linings, most notably, the public protests.  They sprang quickly, they sprang fast, and they were huge!  it felt almost like Arab Spring.  And it makes the Trump White House very out of touch, as well as corrupt.

You do have to wonder how Steve Bannon is expected to continue to shine in Trump’s eyes.  He has not delivered the adoring masses to Trump, as shown by the inauguration size, as well as the size of the protests.  Photo ops about great executive orders turn into catastrophe.  It’s a constant state of damage control over there.  Trump’s vanity and idiocy are sufficient that it may take him some time to realize this. But once he does, it’s bedtime for Bannon, who will be defenestrated without ceremony.

Well, actually, the machinations of Bannon may have brought ONE person out: Six people were killed last night in a terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque.

Right wing blogs and media instantly jumped to the conclusion that Islamists were responsible for the shootings, as they always do. But today we’re learning more about the sole suspect in this terrible attack: he’s a far right anti-immigration fan of Donald Trump and French fascist leader Marine Le Pen.  This guy:

Emoluments Lawsuit Against Trump To Be Filed Today

New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A team of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a lawsuit Monday morning alleging that President Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments.

The lawsuit is among a barrage of legal actions against the Trump administration that have been initiated or are being planned by major liberal advocacy organizations. Such suits are among the few outlets they have to challenge the administration now that Republicans are in control of the government.

In the new case, the lawyers argue that a provision in the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause bans payments from foreign powers like the ones to Mr. Trump’s companies. They cite fears among the framers of the Constitution that United States officials could be corrupted by gifts or payments.

The suit, which will not seek any monetary damages, will ask a federal court in New York to order Mr. Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. Such payments, it says, include those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise.

“The framers of the Constitution were students of history,” said Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers behind the suit. “And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders.”

The president’s son Eric Trump, who is an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said the company had taken more steps than required by law to avoid legal exposure, such as agreeing to donate any profits collected at Trump-owned hotels that come from foreign government guests to the United States Treasury.

“This is purely harassment for political gain, and, frankly, I find it very, very sad,” he said in an interview on Sunday.

The president’s lawyers have argued that the constitutional provision does not apply to fair-market payments, such as a standard hotel room bill, and is intended only to prevent federal officials from accepting a special consideration or gift from a foreign power.

“No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” one of the lawyers, Sheri A. Dillon, a partner at Morgan Lewis, said at a news conference this month.

The legal team filing the lawsuit includes Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard constitutional scholar; Norman L. Eisen, an Obama administration ethics lawyer; and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine. Among the others are Richard W. Painter, an ethics counsel in the administration of George W. Bush; Mr. Gupta, a Supreme Court litigator who has three cases pending before the court; and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and former congressional candidate who has been studying and writing about the Emoluments Clause for nearly a decade.

Ms. Teachout said the one place of potential concern was a nation like China, which rents space at Trump Tower in New York and is a major lender to an office building in New York that Mr. Trump controls in part.

Foreign governments, Ms. Teachout and other ethics experts warn, could rent out rooms in Trump hotels as a way to send a message to the Trump family. “If you think other countries are not going to try to leverage relationships with Trump’s companies to influence trade or military policy, that is naïve,” she said.

But Andy Grewal, a University of Iowa law school professor, argued in an academic paper published last week that a payment to a hotel owned by the Trump family, like the Trump International Hotel in Washington, would not violate the Emoluments Clause because the money is paid to a corporate entity and not to Mr. Trump directly.

“There is no connection between the payment and performance of services by the president personally,” Mr. Grewal said.

“It would be a lot of fun to watch,” he said of the lawsuit, “but I imagine it will be kicked out.”

Mr. Eisen said the legal team intended to use the lawsuit to try to get a copy of Mr. Trump’s federal tax returns, which are needed to properly assess what income or other payments or loans Mr. Trump has received from foreign governments.

Couple key takeaways:

(1) They will seek Trump’s tax returns.  Which is good, but it doesn’t mean they will necessarily become public.

(2) Trump’s aides say he is not violating the Constitution’s gift ban, and his conflict plan donates any profits from his foreign country hotel business to charity.  The donation to charity, however, does not fix the problem.

(3) The biggest obstacle is standing.  CREW must show that is has actual injury from Trump’s actions.  This, I think, is going to be difficult.

This just happened:

President Trump

It is 12:50 pm EST. I had to type “President Trump” as the title of this post, because… well, I had to let it sink it.  If felt awful.

He’s been president for 50 minutes.

I don’t have much to say.  I said a lot on Facebook, which I will reprint here:

Please indulge (or ignore) my thoughts about you-know-what, keeping in mind that I have been pretty much wrong about everything my entire life but especially this political season:

At some point during the campaign, Aimee Mann wrote a song called “Can’t You Tell?” in which she got into the head of Donald Trump. In the song, Aimee/Trump sings the refrain:

Isn’t anybody going to stop me?
I don’t want this job
I don’t want this job, my god

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think it is prescient. I don’t think Trump wants this job. I think he wanted to win the election, and I think he wants the glory (as opposed to power) that comes with the job. But he doesn’t want the job itself. You can tell by the victory lap of large-audience speaking events. You can tell because he never did the so-called “pivot” to “being presidential” that everyone expected. You can tell because of his Tweets about the inauguration guests (celebrities, John Lewis, etc) rather than policy. You can tell because he has already thought of his slogan for the re-election campaign (true!).

This man WANTS to be a figurehead president. This man WILL BE a figurehead president. He’ll champion America (i.e., himself) and maybe “make a few deals” (whatever the hell that means), but as for anything resembling actual governance or public service? I don’t expect a lot in that area from Trump. He’ll delegate that.

Is Figurehead Trump a good or bad thing?

Well, it’s good in the sense that the Hitler comparisons fall by the wayside. I don’t think he’s going to be ultra-fascist, although that word gets thrown around a lot. He might come down hard on the press with some attempts at unconstitutional restrictions (since that bears on his figurehead plans)…. but other than that, I think Trump will prove historically to be a WEAK president. I’m sure this is the perception already held by many in Washington and the world (e.g., Putin).

What we’re left with then is a struggle to fill the vacuum left by Trump’s limited interest in public service. Paul Ryan (through Chief of Staff Priebus), Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump and Mike Pence will certainly attempt to “work” Trump internally. They will often be at cross-purposes, and I expect that conflict to escalate in the first two years.

For those of us on the progressive side of things, we can just stand at the sidelines with bemusement as the dysfunction spills into the headlines. By the way, you’ll want to root for Ivanka, but in the end, I think the Ryan/Priebus wing (the so-called “establishment”) will prevail. Trump and Bannon have about as much chance of changing the Washington establishment as I do changing the NFL from within. Plus, Ryan and Priebus have home field advantage and all that.

And THAT’S where we need to be vigilant. It’s not Trump we have to watch out for (I believe) — it’s Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress. After years of obstructionism and being the party of “no”, the GOP is primed to pass (or repeal) anything and everything they want. This is their last and best chance for the much-vaunted “permanent conservative revolution.”

Good news: I don’t think they have as much support as they think, and Obamacare is the shining Exhibit A. Everybody “hated” it for so long, and now that it is on the verge of repeal — where it is actually PALPABLY going away — its approval rating is at its highest ever. So, when millions of people can’t afford health insurance, or when other changes are made that hurt Americans, please don’t be afraid to say to your Republican friends and family, “THIS is what you voted for”.

Get ready to say that a lot.

But what I would like to see most in the next four(?) years a return to respect for excellence. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere in this country’s recent journey, we’ve lost respect for competence. People talk about the “Washington elite” and the “media elite” like they are talking about lepers. When was being “elite” a bad thing? If I need surgery, I want an elite surgeon, right? Somehow, though, we have come to revere a nutjob with a blog as a better journalist than people like Cronkite or Rather. Or that duck hunters are worthy of our praise and attention because they’re on television. Or that failed rich businessmen who have not done anything by way of public service would make for better politicians because “America needs to be run like a business” (a ridiculous trope, as we shall all soon learn).

So it is my hope that, going forward, we will strive to be excellent in whatever we do — as a teacher or parent or lawyer or citizen. We should also expect excellence in others, especially those who serve us in government. Do NOT suffer fools gladly, but rather — expose them for what they are. And then seek the alternative. Or BE the alternative. Be excellent. No more noobs. In media. In government. In arts. In life. BE EXCELLENT!

A final thought directed to the #NeverHillarys on the far left: you are the noobs of the progressive movement. Your ideological purity is part of the reason the country is about to go backward. I know many of you grew up in a world where everything is faster and you can become famous from a single YouTube video or one season on a reality show. But politics in this country does not work that way. In fact, it was designed to be a slow deliberative process. On purpose. One election never brings about the change we want. One person cannot ever make the country what we want, no matter what office he or she holds. Politics is a game of attrition, and each election moves us in a direction. We’re going in the wrong direction now and your antics haven’t helped. I hope you remain vocal and passionate, but before you protest or throw rocks or whatever, understand the world you live in.

I don’t have much to say about Trump’s inauguration speech.  I didn’t see it, and I only glanced at the prepared text.  It seemed more like a campaign speech, full of promises.  it wasn’t divisive, but that’s only because Trump didn’t write it.  It tried to use “we” a lot, but the only ones listening and cheering were them.  It was a speech for Red America.

He used one line that people seem to attach to: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said.

This American Carnage is either a really pad NPR store, a punk rock band, or some fancy Canal Street clothing outlet.

Here’s some Inauguration Day notes:

  • At 11:59 am eastern, the official White House website had a lengthy information page about the threat of climate change and the steps the federal government had taken to fight it. At noon, at the instant Donald Trump took office, the page was gone, as well as any mention of climate change or global warming.
  • The White House was lit in a rainbow last night.  Love and defiance.
  • GM is letting 2,000 workers go…. today.

And as of today, we still have many unresolved Trump conflicts.

Here are examples of potential conflicts that remain from the New York Times:

Trump Not Liked

From Gallup:

President-elect Donald Trump approaches Inauguration Day with a significantly lower favorable rating than his three immediate predecessors received when they were presidents-elect. Trump’s 40% favorable rating is roughly half of what Barack Obama enjoyed before his inauguration in 2009 (78%) and is much lower than the pre-inaugural ratings for George W. Bush (62%) and Bill Clinton (66%).

***

Of the four most recent incoming presidents, Trump is the only president-elect whose unfavorable rating outweighs his favorable score; a majority of 55% of Americans hold a negative view of Trump, compared with 18% who did so for Obama, 26% for Clinton and 36% for Bush. Gallup has asked favorable and unfavorable ratings for key figures in this format since 1992, so only comparisons to Clinton, Bush and Obama are available.

He also is more unpopular within his own party than his modern-day predecessors.

Still, he’s not as bad as Lincoln was.  I mean, half the country literally seceded over that election!

The Bombshell Report That Russia Can Blackmail Trump, Explained

There’s an enormous amount we don’t yet know about CNN’s bombshell report that US intelligence agencies believe Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” on President-elect Donald Trump and that his campaign was in direct contact with with Russian intermediaries before the election.

We don’t know who CNN’s sources are or if those people’s information is accurate. We don’t know which Trump aides were allegedly dealing with the Russians or whether those Russians worked for Vladimir Putin’s government. And we don’t know the answer to the biggest question of them all: just what does Russia have on Trump?

“So while people are being delicate about discussing wholly unproven allegations, the document is at the front of everyone’s minds as they ponder the question: Why is Trump so insistent about vindicating Russia from the hacking charges that everyone else seems to accept?” Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, and Quina Jurecic wrote in a post for the Lawfare blog.

There is one thing, though, that we can say with absolute certainty. If the allegations are true, they will spark criminal investigations and the types of Congressional probes that could end Trump’s presidency before it fully begins. If the allegations are false, Trump will accurately be able to say that he’d been slandered by a politicized intelligence community looking for ways of undermining his legitimacy.

Trump’s weeks-long war with the CIA means that this kind of moment may have been inevitable: after weeks of quiet sniping, sources inside the agency or familiar with its work have responded by leaking something truly and genuinely explosive.

This is “news” NOT because of the actual allegation in the memos, but because Trump and Obama were briefed on them last week after US intelligence looked into it, suggesting some credibility.  Furthermore, the Guardian is reporting that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation. But again, the news is that at least the FBI thought there was enough credibility in the memos to go to the FISA court in the first place.

A lot of people have joked about whether Russia had something on Trump. Turns out that it might

Here’s what we know. Late on Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that the heads of America’s top intelligence agencies had showed Trump evidence that the Russians had compromising information on him. The allegations came from unsubstantiated memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative that had been in circulation since last summer but that US spy agencies had only recently deemed “credible.”

According to CNN, Sen. John McCain passed a full set of the memos to FBI Director Jim Comey last month. The New York Times reported that top intelligence officials have also briefed President Obama, the top leaders of the House and Senate, and the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the information from the memos even though none of it has been proven true:

The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called Gang of Eight — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual.

After the CNN report, Buzzfeed published the actual dossier, which includes the allegation that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, believed it had “compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.” More specifically, the dossier alleges that Russia had information that Trump engaged in “perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB” and had been recorded having sex with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

Zack Beauchamp at Vox notes that there are three other less salacious but potentially more damaging explanations of what Russia may have on Trump, and of why the president-elect would have have been so worried about its release. First, proof that Trump isn’t as rich as he claims. Second, evidence that Trump’s campaign directly coordinated with a Russian government hell-bent on ensuring his election. And third, that Trump’s business dealings with Russia — and the amount he may owe Russian investors in his company — is far, far greater than we think.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday night to flatly deny the CNN report (and later take a shot at BuzzFeed):

It may be a while until we know if Trump is right or if the CNN report is accurate. In the meantime, the president-elect has a different problem entirely: He’s taken so many jarringly pro-Kremlin positions that something that would seem too ludicrous for Hollywood — Russian spies preparing to potentially blackmail an American president — seems like a semi-plausible explanation.

Astute readers will note that nobody has suggested what the “compromising information” actually is.  That is because only Buzzfeed published the actual dossier.  Other news outlets are not doing so, saying (correctly) that the allegations are unverified (I don’t recall them being so queasy when it came to leaked John Podesta emails, but that’s another commentary).

Since *I* am not a journalist, I am happy to include the dossier with this post, and let the reader read all the salacious “compromising information” that Russia has on Trump, allegedly.  I say again, ALLEGEDLY.  Those who have read it focus on the “golden showers” aspect of it, because kink.  But there are far more serious allegations in there, including one in which Trump and members of his campaign staff colluded with Russia on the hacking and Wikileaks in exchange for a non-interventionist policy on Russia and the Ukraine invasion.  That’s treason.

Anyway, dossier is below the fold.  Back to the issue at hand.

Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin — and war on the CIA — starts to make sense if you believe he was worried about being blackmailed by Russia

One of the enduring mysteries of the 2016 election is how Republican voters who have for decades venerated Ronald Reagan for defeating the Soviet Union got so strongly behind a pro-Russian candidate like Trump.

During the campaign, the president-elect praised Putin’s strength as a leader, brushed aside concerns about Putin’s abysmal human rights record, hinted that he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and talked about leaving NATO entirely or opting to ignore America’s legal obligation to defend any NATO member who comes under Russian attack.

Trump’s pro-Russian positioning goes all the way back to the Republican convention, when his campaign softened the party platform’s language on Ukraine to remove all reference about providing weapons to Kiev so it could protect itself from Russia. A short time later, Trump hinted to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was fine with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said.

One of Trump’s former campaign managers, meanwhile, had been a paid consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine like its former president, Viktor Yanukovych. The campaign manager, Paul Manafort, later resigned as part of an internal campaign shakeup.

Trump himself has spent months praising Putin. “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well,” Trump said during an NBC forum in September.

He has also effusively praised Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria: “What’s wrong with Russia bombing the hell out of ISIS and these other crazies so we don’t have to spend a million dollars a bomb?” Never mind that Russian bombs have targeted the relatively moderate opposition more than ISIS, and that the point has been to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. With Russian help, Assad’s forces just finished reconquering the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

Trump’s rhetoric about Russia has been even more startling since November 8. He has spent weeks mocking the CIA’s conclusion that Putin tried to interfere in the election to help him win the White House by pointing to the spy agency’s faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. When US spies personally briefed Trump on their findings about Russia, he issued a remarkable statement that barely mentioned Russia. Instead, Trump lumped it in with China and other unnamed countries and outside groups as potential perpetrators.

Trump’s complete refusal to admit that Russia interfered in the election has baffled and infuriated many Republican lawmakers, who have called for Congressional investigations into Moscow’s activities during the campaign and condemned Putin as a quasi-dictator. Just this week, five Republican senators said they’d back a Democratic bill that would make it harder for Trump to lift the punishing US sanctions on Russia.

It would make a bit more sense if Russia did in fact have something on Trump that was so big and so embarrassing that he would do Putin’s bidding to ensure it never became public. Given that Trump has survived the release of an audio recording of him bragging about sexual assault, it would presumably have to be something huge.

It’s hard to predict exactly what will come next. Congressional Republicans say they want to probe Russia’s interference in the election, but it’s not clear if this will be enough to make them stop consistently rejecting Democratic calls to create bipartisan investigative panels modeled on the 9/11 commission. Regardless of whether the CNN story holds up, the leak is sure to further fuel Trump’s war with the nation’s intelligence agencies. Given the array of threats facing the US, that may be one of the most dangerous outcomes of all.

UPDATE:  NBC is reporting that Trump never got the briefing and did NOT receive the two-page summary:

A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the preparation for the meeting with Trump told NBC News that the president-elect was not briefed on the so-called two-page addendum to the dossier originally generated as part of anti-Trump Republican opposition research.

Multiple officials say that the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, but the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were handed to the Trump team.

“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.

According to the official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”

The briefers also had available to them unvetted “disinformation” about the Clinton Foundation, although that was not shared with Trump.

Obama (Belatedly) Takes Action Against Russian Hackers

Moments ago, the Obama administration struck back at Russia, imposing sanctions against its intelligence apparatus and expelling 35 diplomats in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.

The sweeping actions outlined by the White House three weeks before the new administration takes office include:

  • Shutting down two compounds, one in in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.”
  • Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services GRU and FSB, and four high-ranking officers of the GRU. The sanctions are also aimed at two suspected hackers, including one wanted by the FBI in two other cases, and three companies that allegedly provided support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
  • Releasing technical information about Russian cyber activity, “to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” President Obama said in a statement.

In his statement, Obama said the U.S. had declared 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata. The State Department said the 35 are diplomats “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status” and accused Russia of harassing U.S. diplomats overseas.

As of noon on Friday, the U.S. also will bar Russian access to two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds,” the White House said. No further detail was provided, but since 1972, the Russians have owned a historic estate overlooking the Chester River in eastern Maryland. They also own a recreation facility in Glen Cove, Long Island.

The White House said the actions will go beyond those announced Thursday.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in his statement.  Meaning, covert stuff.

Here’s a poster:

And here’s the FBI White Paper on the issue:

Paul Ryan throws in muted support saying, “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Moscow was quick to respond:

And whose side will President-elect Trump take? Obama’s?  Unlikely.  Ryan’s (“About time you terrible Obama person!”)?  Or Russia’s (“Nyet!!”)?

Anyone want to guess?

He’s quiet now but I doubt that’ll last.

UPDATE: 

It’s Not A “Conflict Of Interest” If You Change The Definition of “Conflict Of Interest”

Greg Sargent caught Sean Spicer explaining why Trump’s blatant conflicts of interest aren’t unethical:

“You tell everyone, here’s what’s going on, here’s the process, here are the people that are playing a role, that’s being transparent. Conflicts of interest arise when you’re not — when you’re sneaky about it, when you’re shady about it, when you’re not transparent about it.”

Nnnno.  It’s a conflict of interest when you have interests that conflict.  Or, to be less circular, you have a conflict of interest when you have a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.

I THINK Spicer was saying that conflicts of interest, in a corporate setting, can be waived if a majority is made aware of the conflict and approves it.  I think he is suggesting that this will translate to Trump in the election process — i.e., every voter knew of his conflicts and they elected him anyway.  That is tacit approval that America waives any problem with his conflict of interest.

If that is what Spiver was suggesting, it is absurd.

For one thing, we don’t know that every voter knew about the extent of Trump’s conflicts.  In fact, we still don’t know, because he keeps so much of his finances a secret.

Secondly, many voters reasonably believed that Trump would, voluntarily or by law, take steps to remove those conflicts.  Trump himself seem to suggest this would happen many times during the campaign.  So, he misled the voters.

And finally, a majority of voters did not elect Trump.  Hillary won the popular vote by almost 2 percentage points.

The thing is, the Trump people wouldn’t say this blatantly stupid stuff if there wasn’t a huge swath of people who believe it all.

Republicans Will Like Anything As Long As It Helps Republicans

This graph says it all:

Republican opinion on Putin seems to have moved not because Trump is pro-Russia or because there’s suddenly an opportunity for better relations with Moscow. It moved because Russia interfered in the election to the Democrats’ detriment, whether that was the core motive or not. That’s the point we’ve reached in partisan polarization, apparently. Want better relations with the U.S.? Then do what you can, legal or not, to make the eventual winning party’s path to electoral victory easier.

To put that another way, the surge in favorability among Republicans for a Russian fascist and kleptocrat who’s used anti-American propaganda relentlessly to consolidate power at home may be a more or less straightforward byproduct of partisan politics.

If widespread murder helped Republicans win political offices,.Republican voters would start favoring widespread murder.

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been A Climate Change Scientist?

Now we’re into the naming names phase.  The Washington Post reports:

Global warming — “it’s a hoax.” Donald Trump has said that more than once. So it’s understandable that the request by the president-elect’s transition team for the names of individual Energy Department employees and contractors who worked on the issue makes them worry that the trick could be on them.

“There is major concern amongst my members,” said Jeff Eagan, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) chapter at the department’s headquarters building in Washington. He’s also a 17-year Energy employee, but was speaking in his union capacity. “I have received lots of calls, emails, messages expressing shock and dismay.”

The scientists and their colleagues at Energy know global warming is real. What they don’t know is what Trump might do to those whose work has been in line with the science and the Obama administration, which has spoken about “the urgent imperatives of climate change.”

Perhaps Trump’s crew will do nothing. Trump more recently has said he has an open mind about global warming, so maybe he’s discarding his flat-earth approach to the subject. Nonetheless, the transition team’s request to “provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended” certain climate change meetings casts a shroud of apprehension over the workforce. The transition team ignored a request for comment.

Yeah, I would be nervous too.

Meanwhile, scientists race to copy climate data onto non-government servers out of fear it could disappear under Trump.

Trump’s EPA Pick Is A “Fuck You” To Environmentalists (And The Planet)

Today Trump announced his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Would it surprise you to learn that he’s a far right climate change denier in the pocket of the fossil fuel industries?

Scott Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt, 48, who has emerged as a hero to conservative activists, is also one of a number of Republican attorneys general who have formed an alliance with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, a 2014 investigation by The New York Times revealed.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Pruitt as head of the EPA represents an existential threat to the future of planet Earth. This is so bad.

The Power Of Fake News

This morning, Trump got on Twitter (you know this doesn’t end good, right?) and tweeted this:

P.S. (although it really is another story unto itself) Trump sent out this tweet 20 minutes after this story – a Chicago Tribune story where the Boeing CEO criticized Trump — first appeared.

And what happened?

A 137-character tweet from President-elect Donald Trump could be costing Boeing Co. shareholders more than $550 million, as Wall Street got a firsthand look at how easily an incoming commander in chief can move markets.

Boeing’s stock was down 86 cents, or 0.6%, in midday trade, paring an earlier loss of as much as 1.4%. Based on 647.9 million shares outstanding as of Sept. 30, according to the aerospace giant’s third-quarter report, that implies about $557.2 million was lopped off Boeing’s market capitalization.

Trump tweeted that an order for Boeing to build a new Air Force One should be canceled because costs had risen to over $4 billion, which would be well more than double earlier budget estimates.

Trump didn’t just tweet about the order. He told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, where he works and lives, that the building of the plane was “totally out of control,” as costs were spiraling, according to ABC News.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number,” Trump said. “We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”

Such is the power of inaccurate information.  The $4 billion figure, by the way, is totally fictional.  Nobody knows where Trump got that number from.

“We are currently under contract for $170 million to determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States,” Boeing said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Boeing had secured the contract in January to start work on the 747-8 jumbo jets that would replace the planes used as Air Force One beginning early next decade. Although the Pentagon didn’t disclose the expected cost of the two new planes, earlier budget estimates put the cost at more than $1.6 billion.

But that didn’t stop the plunge.

And this is what happened — in an instant — when false information was spread.

But it is not just markets, it’s lives.  Literal lives.

Let’s talk about fake news.  For several months, there has been a “scandal” brewing that barely deserves mentioning, except for the fact that it is a prime example of what can happen when fake news is circulated and believed. (Actually, the election of Trump is also a great example of the consequences of fake news, but there were other factors involved there).

The scandal is called “Pizzagate” and boils down to this: Bill and Hillary Clinton were – and still are — operating a child prostitution ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington DC.

Yeah, I know.  I know.  Common sense alone would make you reject this one out of hand, but we live in post-truth times now.  And lots of people still believe it.  Like this guy:

Harmless?  Nope.  The tweet above is from Michael Flynn, Jr., son of General Michael Flynn Sr., who Trump recently appointed as his national security adviser.  The senior Flynn is no novice when it comes to tweeting fake news himself, like this one relating to spirit cooking (a sort of forerunner of the pizzagate scandal):

General Flynn is also the author of other troubling tweets:

So we have a national security adviser and his son (a son who, until recently was on the Trump transition team) who are re-tweeting fake news about a fake scandal.  Given the clout these guys have, plus the fact that some morons will believe anything they hear on the Internet, THIS is what happens:

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington. Welch, who said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place, fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant on Sunday injuring no one, police and news reports said. (Sathi Soma via AP)

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington. Welch, who said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place, fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant on Sunday injuring no one, police and news reports said. (Sathi Soma via AP)

Edgar Maddison Welch allegedly believed he was liberating “child sex slaves” kept in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant when he entered the building with two guns on Sunday afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint released Monday, the North Carolina man told police that he “had read online” that Comet Ping Pong was the center of a child trafficking ring and “that he wanted to see for himself if they were there.” Welch had brought along an AR-15 assault rifle and a .38 caliber handgun to “help rescue them,” he allegedly told police.

He now faces several gun-related charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and openly carrying a weapon without a license. The Washington Post reported that D.C. Magistrate Judge Joseph E. Beshouri on Monday ordered Welch to remain in jail until his next hearing on Thursday after U.S. Attorney Sonali Patel cautioned he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Friends of Welch, a periodically employed father of two young girls, told the Post that they were surprised that he became so personally invested in investigating an online conspiracy theory that holds that Democratic Party operatives are running a pedophilia and human trafficking ring from the Comet restaurant. The fabricated story, known as “Pizzagate” and targeted at Hillary Clinton and her allies, was ignited by fringe social media users. It was then heavily circulated by fake news publications and conspiracy sites.

Comet Ping Pong’s owners have received a steady stream of death threats and harassing phone calls since the bizarre tale began circulating online in late October. Other establishments on Connecticut Avenue, a popular shopping street in Northwest D.C., have also been targeted by protesters and threatening phone calls.

Welch did not elaborate further on his motive in the courtroom on Monday, according to the Post, saying only his name when asked to identify himself.

He surrendered to law enforcement gathered outside the restaurant after he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored” inside.

Fortunately, no guns were fired and nobody was killed.  But it does make you wonder how long it will be before people die because of fake news.