President Donald Trump isn’t the only one in the White House who could be caught in a compromising position by James Comey’s secret memos. The president’s chief of staff is worried he could be soon in the crosshairs, as well.
Comey, the former FBI director who was fired earlier this month by Trump, took detailed notes of his interactions with the president and senior Trump administration officials in order to properly document conversations that were on the verge of improper.
Three White House officials told The Daily Beast that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry about a possible Comey memo specifically involving one of their reported chats, and how it might play in the press and to investigators.
“Nervous laughter,” one official succinctly characterized Priebus’ demeanor in the midst of recent revelations.
In late February—long before Trump fired Comey over the “this Russia thing”—Priebus had reportedly already acted on the president’s behalf in trying to use the FBI to quash the Trump-Russia news.
According to CNN, Priebus asked Comey and his then-top deputy, Andrew McCabe, on Feb. 15 to refute news reports about conversations between Trump campaign staff and Russian government officials. Comey and McCabe reportedly refused. The White House denied the story at the time.
That conversation happened the day after President Trump reportedly asked Comey to dial back the bureau’s investigation of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s ousted, and preferred, national security adviser. As first reported by The New York Times, the former FBI director subsequently documented that conversation in a memo that leaked last week.
This week, The Washington Post reported Trump had been unsuccessful in persuading two of the most senior U.S. intelligence officials to publicly deny the existence of evidence linking his 2016 campaign to Russian efforts to undermine the American political process. Trump’s request was made after Comey informed the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating.
Senior Trump aides recounted to The Daily Beast the shockwaves and “sustained panic,” as one official described it, that news of the initial Comey memo sent through the administration and Trump’s political inner circle. Along with the chaos and continued frustrations that came with attempting to manage the fallout, there was an immediate unease expressed by senior staffers, including Priebus, that more damning memos could be revealed in the coming weeks, if not days.
Did it not occur to any of these people that this was wrong? Good lord, the whole crew is as dumb as their boss.
The beating heart of it, poisonous essence, the attitude that shapes his appeal and the beliefs of those who follow him:
Last month, the Missoulian newspaper took Gianforte to task for his attitude toward the press. At an event hosted by the Advancing Conservatism Society, an audience member reportedly said: “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”
Gianforte responded by pointing at a reporter and saying: “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.” Gianforte later told the Billings Gazette that his comments were a joke.
Very funny. A month later he assaulted a reporter.
The story about James Comey believing a fake Russian document implicating Hillary Clinton in a conspiracy with Loretta Lynch, thus propelling him to hold his July press conference is just depressing. We sort of knew the outlines of this before but this Washington Post story fleshes out the details:
The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.
Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.
But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.
Comey's defenders are saying this justifies his actions last summer. But honestly, the man should have known better. By October everyone at the FBI did so there was no good reason for him to do what he did to tilt the election. But by all means lets not make a federal case out of Russian meddling because what could go wrong?
This is just embarrassing. He went to the Middle East and said not a word about human rights. Now he's in Europe basically threatening to break some legs if they don't pay the vig.
Here's the NYTimes on the talks yesterday:
President Trump, a blunt critic of the European Union during his campaign for the White House, received a chilly reception from his European counterparts on Thursday as they began meetings in Brussels, clashing over trade, climate and the best way to confront Russia.
The president’s first meeting with the Continent’s leaders began with officials from the United States and Europe saying nothing to each other. After being welcomed to Brussels, Mr. Trump said, “Thank you very much,” but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at the cameras across the room.
Donald Tusk, who represents the leaders of the bloc’s 28 member states as president of the European Council, made it clear after the morning meeting that there had been several areas of disagreement.
“Some issues remained open like climate and trade,” Mr. Tusk told reporters shortly after the meeting at European Union headquarters in Brussels. “And I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today — ‘we’ means Mr. President and myself — that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Tusk differed over the intentions and policies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, an increasing source of anxiety in Europe in light of the country’s apparent attempts to meddle in elections in Europe and the United States, and its increasingly assertive foreign policy, notably in Ukraine.
Mr. Tusk expressed a far more skeptical view of the Russians in the talks, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were held privately.
It looks like everyone can relax about this alleged "new cold war." Trump's holding fast on his high opinion of Russian leadership and policies, no matter what. Europe seems to be our new common enemy. But then this isn't really new, is it? The right has been hostile to Europe for many moons. Recall Michael Ledeen's famous essay arguing for the US to declare war on Germany and France for failing to back the invasion of Iraq. Ledeen is the co-author of Michael Flynn's book "Fear of Flight."
Has there ever been a more indiscreet world leader than Donald Trump? We knew in the campaign that he had a big mouth when he was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women and getting away with it, but very few people would have predicted that this propensity to discuss private matters in wildly inappropriate contexts would extend to classified intelligence.
After all, month after month he excoriated Hillary Clinton for allowing some confidential emails to be inadvertently sent over her personal email server when she was secretary of state. He said it disqualified her, in fact, and “she should not have been allowed” to run for president because of it.
Trump told Clinton to her face that if he were president she would be in jail:
Well, Donald Trump is the president now and several different government entities are investigating his campaign and administration. And he’s been shamelessly blurting out highly sensitive intelligence to foreign adversaries, unstable tyrants and even the press without a second thought.
Trump felt the need to meet with the Russian ambassador and the foreign minister at the behest of Vladimir Putin and in the course of their conversation he bragged that he had “great intel” and proceeded to expose a foreign ally’s asset by giving them highly sensitive “code-word” intelligence without the ally’s permission. As former CIA chief John Brennan explained in testimony before Congress this week, while it’s true that a president has the authority to declassify information, he is supposed to follow protocols:
The first [protocol] is that this kind of intelligence is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors. It’s shared through intelligence channels. The second is that, before sharing any classified intelligence with foreign partners, it has to go back to the originating agency to ensure that revealing it won’t compromise sources, methods and future collection capabilities.
There has never been a need for a protocol to guide a proudly ignorant, inexperienced president with a pathological need to brag to everyone he meets, since nobody anticipated such a thing before. Now we know.
And nobody anticipated that this same president would visit the foreign ally he exposed and confirm to reporters from all over the world that it had been the source of that intelligence. But Trump did that too.
And while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put on a good face for the cameras, the effect on the relationship has been profound. After the breach was reported, BuzzFeed spoke to two Israeli intelligence officials who said that this was their worst fear confirmed. One explained, “There has to be trust for this sort of arrangement. I cannot speak for Israel’s entire security apparatus, but I would not trust a partner who shared intelligence without coordinating it with us first.”
Foreign Policy reported that the Israeli defense minister admitted that the two countries have since revised their “protocols” and when asked what they were he tartly replied, “Not everything needs to be discussed in the media; some things need to be talked about in closed rooms.” A certain president shouldn’t talk about such things in closed rooms either, since he is incapable of understanding protocols for anything.
But that wasn’t the only report we had this week of Donald Trump’s loose lips putting national security in danger. The Intercept released a transcript of the Trump’s recent phone call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (I wrote about it here.) The actual words were worse than we knew. Not only did the president effusively compliment Duterte on his murderous drug war, he also insulted former President Barack Obama for failing to be equally impressed.
The two leaders discussed the threat from North Korea, mused about the mental state of Kim Jong-un and batted around the idea that nuclear war might end up being necessary. Trump said he hoped the Chinese would take care of it but promised that if they didn’t the U.S. would. Then he shared some military secrets with a foreign leader widely seen as unbalanced and untrustworthy:
We have two submarines – the best in the world – we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but [Kim] could be crazy so we will see what happens.
“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movements secret is key to their mission.
While the US military will frequently announce the deployment of aircraft carriers, it is far more careful when discussing the movement of nuclear submarines. Carriers are hard to miss, and that, in part, is a reason the US military deploys them. They are a physical show of force. Submarines are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence.
Trump, Duterte, Kim Jong-un and nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?
There are dozens of reasons why America’s allies and adversaries alike are starting to panic a little bit about Donald Trump serving as the supposed leader of the free world. Until now, despite major misgivings, it was not entirely clear whether Trump might grow into the job or whether American institutions and expertise would be able to guide his behavior. After four months it seems clear that’s not as easy as everyone hoped.
In this context, the fact that U.S. officials apparently leaked the identity of the accused Manchester bomber to the press before U.K. authorities were ready to do so was received with sharp irritation by the British government. If this had happened under any other administration, the misunderstanding between two close allies would likely have been handled quietly. But it’s obvious that the gusher of leaks throughout the government and at high levels of the White House has other countries spooked.
Along with the president’s ongoing inability to understand and respect the seriousness of classified intelligence, this lack of trust in the United States government’s basic competence and predictability is making the world order as we’ve known it for the last 60 years suddenly feel very unstable. It will be interesting to see whether the NATO meeting being held over the next few days can provide any sense of reassurance.
The Republican candidate in today's special election for Montana's sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives was charged last night in the misdemeanor assault of a Guardian newspaper reporter. Just after 7 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, reporter Ben Jacobs tweeted:
Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses
Jacobs was attempting to get Gianforte to comment on the just-released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the Republicans' America Health Care Act (AHCA).
By the time All in with Chris Hayes reached Jacobs at the hospital, audio of the encounter had already been posted by the Guardian:
"The fish rots from the head," said a visibly shaken Jennifer Rubin after hearing the tape on All In. A conservative columnist for the Washington Post, Rubin explained that with Donald Trump's behavior towards the press — threatening to jail reporters; calling them the enemies of the people; inviting rally-goers to heckle and verbally abuse them, and offering to pay their post-assault legal fees — this is a natural outcome.
Gianforte's campaign released this statement on the incident:
The New York Times' Nick Confessore adds that Jacobs is all of "100 pounds soaking wet. Just for context when a candidate suggests Ben was 'aggressive.'"
A Fox News crew already in the room witnessed the encounter. Alicia Acuna writes that Jacobs walked into the room and approached Gianforte about the CBO score. Gianforte told him to speak with his press spokesperson, Shane Scanlon:
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
The Guardian describes Gianforte as "a tech mogul who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2016." BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson told the Guardian she overheard Gianforte's staff telling Jacobs the campaign was upset with the Guardian’s previous reporting and would have no time to talk with him:
But the CBO scoring released yesterday showed the revamped AHCA would leave 23 million more people uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare was left in place. The night before the special election, Gianforte was not eager to go on record with a statement.
Perhaps Gianforte is that rare conservative with anger-management issues. Or perhaps Gianforte's internal polling is not as favorable as he'd like. Wednesday morning brought news of upsets for Republican candidates in state legislative races in New York and New Hampshire. In the Georgia 6th District special election for congress next month, polling shows Democrat Jon Ossoff leading his Republican opponent by seven points, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that 5,500 new voters have registered ahead of the June 20 election, rarely good news for Republicans.
Then again, half the ballots have already cast for the election in Montana. If Gianforte has a lead going into the election today, many voters won't be able to change their minds as three of the state's newspapers did last night in rescinding their Gianforte endorsements.
What’s more worrisome than Gianforte is that the Republican Party has created an entire partisan infrastructure that is so heavily indoctrinated, they will defend a candidate no matter what. We’ve already seen the GOP base turn a blind eye to, or even applaud, Donald Trump’s hostility toward the press. But such nasty, unacceptable behavior goes well beyond Trump and his supporters, and will play a role in American politics for years to come.
We have seen some strange day in the last couple of weeks. When do days like this go from registering as weird and alarming to dangerous?
Hell, I spent 60 years in Congress without bodyslamming a single reporter.
This guy in Montana won't last long if he manages to win.
The president's American Carnage budget increases his own
Trump's draconian budget hellscape, that slashes funding for the disabled and the elderly in nursing homes so they can be "freed" to go out and earn a living again, oddly includes lots of increases for the White House and the president's own needs:
The cuts to some parts of the federal budget would be severe under Trump’s proposal. The Department of Labor’s budget would drop 19.8 percent. The Department of the Interior would get cut by 10.9 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency loses more than 30 percent of its entire budget in the Trump document—all in the name of fiscal discipline and balancing the federal budget within the next 10 years.
But Trump’s budget does not include any cuts for the executive office of the president, including the roughly 450 people on the White House staff, nor for the multimillion dollar operating budgets at the White House residence or at the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Mike Pence lives.
Trump also chose to fully fund or increase funding for the eight advisory councils that report to him through the Executive Office of the President, including the Council of Economic Advisers, the National Security Council, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Council on Environmental Quality.
Mulvaney’s agency, the Office of Management and Budget, even gets a 7.7 percent increase in the White House budget request. The extra $8 million would mostly go to pay for an additional 30 full-time staff positions, which would put the total number of staff at OMB at 495. Neither the White House nor the OMB responded to inquiries about why the extra personnel would be necessary, but a senior House staffer familiar with the OMB request confirmed that the agency has asked for more money and additional staff.
Elsewhere in the budget, Trump also requests $60 million, in part to hire more Secret Service agents, who guard him and his family, as well as the multiple Trump residences outside of Washington that have to be secured at all times. The Washington Post reported that the Secret Service had asked for the extra money in March.
There's also talk of Trump raising money to pay for his personal lawyers fighting the Russia investigations for him. He will not spend a dime of his own money for anything and is actually costing the taxpayers vast sums for the protection of his properties all over the world. What a sweet scam.
While it might work as a campaign event, the Trump 2018 budget flops big time as a real policy proposal and practical guide for Congress. Its economics are pie-in-the-sky, its numbers are speculative at best, and its spending cut proposals are unlikely to ever be considered seriously. But it’s also not clear whether the Trump budget will actually work as a political rallying cry.
Although the administration will try to emphasize the big picture proposals — the wall, the Pentagon, the projected surplus — many of the individual plans such as the cuts in Medicaid and the Social Security disability program break promises the president made during the campaign. Many of the smaller Trump-proposed spending cuts will be felt by his supporters as well, and congressional Democrats are certain to make political life miserable for any Republicans who support them.
It didn’t take long for the Trump 2018 budget to disappear inside the Beltway. Less than two days after the details emerged, congressional Republicans had all but stopped talking about it. With the president overseas and not part of the rollout, and no one but Mulvaney promoting it, the budget seemed destined to vanish by the end of the week. That will make the Trump 2018 budget one of the biggest and most rapid failures in recent American history.
It’s an entirely reasonable theory. We live in a highly partisan epoch, and voters are usually loyal to politicians from their party. Trump endured a lot of turbulence in the general election but stuck it out to win the Electoral College. The media doesn’t always guess right about which stories will resonate with voters.
But the theory isn’t supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.
This will be read as people coming to understand that he was breaking his promise to help the white working class and so they abandoned him. But the truth is that these folks didn't abandon him. They just moved from "strongly support" to somewhat support.
If I had to guess, I'd say that at least a few of his "strong" supporters realized that the health care debacle showed that his much hyped "skill" as a negotiator was bullshit. He revealed himself to be stupid, naive, clumsy and inept in that moment and perhaps all the stories they'd heard about him being a con-artist always one step ahead of the law and his multiple bankruptcies and his idiotic rhetoric wasn't all partisan nonsense but rather a true picture of a man who had no qualifications for this big job.
The "strongly disapprove" numbers have been growing too but for different reasons:
The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump has sharply risen since early in his term, meanwhile, from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday. In most surveys, Trump’s strongly disapprove rating exceeds his overall approval rating, in fact.
The bulk of the increase in Trump’s strong disapproval ratings came early in his term, over the course of late January and early February. It’s possible that this was partly a reaction to Trump’s initial travel ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was the biggest news of Trump’s first few weeks in office. But presidential disapproval often rises in the first month or so of a president’s tenure as voters who initially give a new president the benefit of the doubt find things to dislike in his performance.
Meanwhile, the share of Americans who somewhat disapprove of Trump has been small and fairly steady throughout his term, usually averaging around 10 or 11 percent. It was 11.6 percent as of Tuesday.
Silver puts this into some useful perspective:
During last year’s presidential primaries, Trump received about 14 million votes out of a total of 62 million cast between the two parties, which works out to 23 percent of the total. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 20 to 25 percent of the country still strongly supports Trump; they were with him from the start.
But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased. If those reluctant Trump supporters shift to being reluctant opponents instead, he’ll be in a lot of trouble,3 with consequences ranging from a midterm wave against Republicans to an increased likelihood of impeachment.
So while there’s risk to Democrats in underestimating Trump’s resiliency, there’s an equal or perhaps greater risk to Republicans in thinking Trump’s immune from political gravity.
President Donald Trump’s excellent overseas adventure continued on Tuesday, with the leader of the free world leaving a high school yearbook-style note at Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, complete with adorable exclamation point using a circle instead of a period. (He would have used a heart but he was trying to be dignified.) But the day’s big news happened back in Washington.
Former CIA chief John Brennan testified before Congress and further confirmed that the entire intelligence community’s hair had been on fire since last summer over the Russian connection. The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, also testified and refused to deny reports that the president had called him up and asked him to declare Trump’s innocence. Most observers think that if it didn’t happen, Coats would have felt free to say so.
And the administration finally released its budget, which immediately blew up like the Hindenburg (as I predicted). Even conservatives were a little shocked at the sheer scope of the barbarity and callousness. Its architect, budget director Mick Mulvaney, seemed to be struggling to repress maniacal laughter, but that’s about all we heard from anyone in the administration. Naturally, House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was “right on target,” further cementing his growing reputation as the world’s greatest suck-up.
The biggest news is that somebody finally convinced Trump that he is in need of outside legal counsel, aside from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Judge Jeanine Pirro. One might have thought it would be wise to select someone with Washington experience who understands both the legal and political aspects of presidential scandals, but that’s not how Trump works. According to Politico, he has hired his own longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, rather than someone who might not understand that Trump only wants to hear what he wants to hear. (An added bonus is that Kasowitz also represents Russia’s largest bank, so he knows the terrain.)
The administration seems to understand that it should create a “war room” in order to concentrate the scandal management in one place instead of sucking in everyone in the White House at each new turn. But if people in the GOP hierarchy thought Trump might be getting serious about hiring some professionals to handle that, they should probably think again. Apparently Trump plans to house this operation outside the White House and, according to Politico, he wants to bring back his original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, along with his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, to run it.
It’s not unusual when an administration finds itself becoming engulfed in controversy to bring in someone to help put out the flames. Usually that person is someone with management experience and a sterling reputation, an individual who is respected by both sides of the aisle and beloved by the mainstream media. The point is to show that the White House is serious about fixing the problem, even if it hasn’t got a clue about how to do that. Think of David Gergen being called into President Bill Clinton’s administration in its early days or former Sen. Howard Baker during the waning days of the Reagan administration, as these presidents confronted consuming scandals. Lewandowski and Bossie are not in the same category.
According to CNN, despite the fact that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump don’t like him, Lewandowski still has the president’s trust. He’s a thuggish sort best remembered for roughing up protesters and assaulting reporters, so that makes sense. Lewandowski was finally let go after losing a power struggle with the short-lived second campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is now very much in the doghouse over his obvious ties to Russia. Trump probably remembers those early days of the campaign as his glory days, and thinks Lewandowski has a special talent that can help him weather the storms. But Lewandowski is a D.C. novice who couldn’t even get his attempt to cash in as a lobbyist off the ground. It’s unlikely that he has the skills required to deal with something as serious as this Russia investigation.
Bossie, on the other hand, is a longtime GOP insider who has a couple of decades of experience in working more or less behind the scenes both for his own dirt-digging opposition research organization Citizens United (yes, that Citizens United) as a congressional investigator and a producer of conservative propaganda films.
How that experience translates into crisis management for Trump remains a little obscure. Bossie is obviously savvy about how to pump up a scandal so perhaps the idea is that he will know how to take the air out of one as well, but in this case that’s a tall order. More likely he’s going to be tasked with distraction and deflection.
Bossie built his reputation and his career as a professional character assassin of the Clintons and he’s done well at it. He was undoubtedly very useful to Trump in helping him identify various buttons to push. One can see the echoes of his work (and, for all we know, its direct application) in the latest phony Clinton conspiracy, the ongoing Seth Rich saga, which has the right-wing media in a full-blown frenzy. Although Fox News has now retracted its original story on Rich’s murder, both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Fox News’ Sean Hannity are still hysterically flogging this outrageous conspiracy theory. It has all the hallmarks of a Bossie-style hit although the inane Pizzagate conspiracy spread by the likes of former national security adviser Michael Flynn proves that dirty tricks can be done just as well by amateurs.
Hannity has said he believes the Rich story exonerates Trump because it suggests that it wasn’t the Russians who hacked the Democratic National Committee. (The fact that the Democrats’ congressional campaign and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta were also hacked is just left dangling out there.) So one can see the outlines of a desperate attempt to prove Trump’s innocence. Smearing Hillary Clinton seems like something Trump would define as “crisis management” — he always goes on offense when he’s under pressure.
It’s predictable enough that the hard-core Republican base would swallow this, hook, line and sinker. It always has done so before. But this type of thing won’t help convince members of the wider public any any more than it did during the first go-round with the Clintons in the 1990s. And back then Republicans largely had the mainstream media on their side, eager for any juicy morsel of gossip about the Clintons. If Hillary Clinton were president, there can be no doubt the media would be right there begging for whatever Bossie and his ilk could feed them. But Trump is in the White House and there is no faux Clinton scandal on Earth that can beat the lunacy that comes out of the White House and this president’s mouth every single day.
Trump’s overlapping scandals are as far-reaching and outrageous as the Republicans always tried to portray the Clinton scandals to be. Bossie’s tawdry character assassinations are revealed for the cheap stunts they are in comparison with the real thing.
A few weeks ago, the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography was awarded to a freelance photojournalist named Daniel Berehulak for a multimedia report published in the New York Times last December called “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals.” It documented the deaths of 57 homicide victims in the Philippine government’s brutal campaign against drug users and dealers. The photographer had this comment upon winning the prize:
The story is indeed important. Those photographs document the grotesque campaign of terror in the Philippines, which experts believe has left more than 7,000 people dead in less than a year from extrajudicial killings at the hands of police and vigilantes.
The Philippines is currently run by President Rodrigo Duterte, who won the election last June after in his final campaign speech, “Forget the laws on human rights, if I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor [of the coastal city of Davao]. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out because I’d kill you.” He kept to his word, telling his police forces the day after he was sworn in, “Do your duty, and in the process, [if] you kill 1,000 persons, I will protect you.” Last September, he proudly compared himself to Adolf Hitler:
Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there is 3 million, what is it, 3 million drug addicts [in the Philippines], there are. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have [me]. You know, my victims, I would like to be all criminals, to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.
“I killed about three of them because there were three of them,” Mr. Duterte told reporters at a news conference in Manila, the capital. “I don’t really know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies.”
“It happened. I cannot lie about it,” he said in English.
The remarks followed comments he made on Monday, when he told business leaders that as mayor, he had patrolled the streets on a motorcycle and killed criminal suspects in order to set an example to his police officers.
None of that stopped President-elect Donald Trump from chatting up Duterte after the election, telling him that he was going about his war on drugs “the right way.” And last Saturday night the White House released a statement that they two men had had another “very friendly conversation,” in which they’d talked about regional security and “discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs.” (That’s one way of putting it.) It said that “President Trump enjoyed the conversation and looks forward to visiting the Philippines in November” for the East Asia Summit meeting.
Then the statement said that Trump had invited the admitted murderer and Hitler admirer, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House.
According to the New York Times, White House aides were “slack-jawed” at the invitation and both the State Department and National Security Council were expected to object internally. The call was simply supposed to be part of a hand-holding exercise for Asian nations whose leaders were feeling neglected by Trump’s single-minded focus on China, Japan and North Korea.
Reince Priebus tried to clean it up on ABC’s “This Week,” saying that Trump was rounding up support against North Korea. That might make some sense if it weren’t for the fact that Manila is 1,700 miles south of Pyongyang, and the Philippine navy can hardly defend its own coastline. North Korea has never shown any interest in the Philippines and it’s fairly obvious that Donald Trump couldn’t find either country on a map without color coding and multiple guesses.
No, Trump was making pro-forma calls they told him to make and simply hit it off with the violent, authoritarian president of the Philippines. He’s had similarly “warm” conversations and meetings with the autocratic leaders of Egypt and Turkey and, as he did on the campaign trail, he continues to praise Kim Jong-un for being a very impressive young man. Everyone knows in what high regard he holds Vladimir Putin.
Even setting aside the president’s autocratic temperament, he is also still involved in his family business. One cannot discount the fact that all the despots he has cultivated are leaders in countries in which he either has ongoing deals or whose bankers are rumored to have business with him. (We don’t know the specifics, because Trump has refused to reveal the extent of his business ties or divest himself of them.)
Time magazine put together a handy map of all the deals that are public knowledge, and the locations include Egypt, Turkey and Russia, as well as other nations in Russia’s economic orbit. But the deal with the Philippines is very big and very current:
Trump Tower Manila is the most advanced of a series of Trump-branded buildings planned by property magnate Jose E.B. Antonio (though it remains under construction today, with scaffolding up, exposed pipes and breeze blocks stacked outside). Just before Trump’s election, the Philippines appointed Antonio as its special envoy to the U.S.
Assistant to POTUS models in an ad for POTUS's new Tower in Manila. President of Philippines just got WH invite. pic.twitter.com/zEDxTkGN17
For multiple, overlapping ideological and financial reasons the president of the the United States has seen fit to invite a confessed murderer and brutal tyrant to the White House. That should alarm every one of us.
The Intercept got a copy of the transcript of the actual call and it's worse than we knew. Here's President Trump:
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
“This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”
"I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that, but I understand that and we have spoken about this before."
They went on to talk about the threat of North Korea as if they had no more knowledge of the situation than two random fellows sitting at the end of bar in Poughkeepsie:
“We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has times 20, but we don’t want to use it,” Trump told Duterte. (In fact, the U.S. has 6,800 nuclear warheads and North Korea is thought to have about 10.) “You will be in good shape,” he added.
“We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines — the best in the world — we have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like they are, but we don’t have to use this, but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.”
During the call, Trump echoed his publicly stated position that he wants China to take the lead in addressing potential threats from North Korea. “I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff come [sic] through China,” Trump said. “But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.”
Duterte then volunteered to call Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding, “The other option is a nuclear blast which is not good for everybody.” Both leaders expressed a preference for avoiding a nuclear confrontation, but nonetheless, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a leading expert on nuclear weapons, was alarmed by the exchange.
“Trump has a disturbing tendency to talk very cavalierly about nuclear weapons — as if he is an impulse away from using them,” Cirincione said. “He doesn’t seem to understand the vast destructive nature of these weapons and the line he would be crossing by using them.”
I don't know what to say anymore. Anyone who thinks this is just a political game and that Trump is not a uniquely dangerous president needs to think again.
"Our latest polling finds that Americans are not only divided in how to react to the latest news out of Washington, they're divided over what the news is," said Dropp. "For example, 76 percent of Democrats think President Trump fired FBI Director Comey to hinder the Russia investigation, while just 17% of Republicans agree."
Evidently, a huge number of Republicans actually believe that utter bullshit that Trump was upset that Comey had overstepped his bounds in the Clinton email case. The entire party is nothing but a bunch of smirking trolls now.
The Trump administration's "witch hunt" narrative regarding the ongoing investigation into his Russia ties went down in flames yesterday when former CIA chief John O. Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee:
Mr. Brennan, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned by a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Mr. Trump’s associates. The C.I.A. learned about those meetings just as it was beginning to grapple with Russian hackers and propagandists trying to manipulate the presidential race.
“I know what the Russians try to do,” Mr. Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including U.S. individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly.”
He added that American targets were often unwitting in such efforts. “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” he said.
The remark may have been a reference to former national security adviser Michael Flynn who was forced to resign after his contacts with the Russian ambassador came to light.
Pressed repeatedly on whether he had proof of collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government, Brennan told the panel he saw enough to warrant an investigation:
“I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons,” Brennan said, adding that he did not see proof of collusion before he left office on Jan. 20, but “felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.”
It’s crucial here to fully grasp the backdrop of Tuesday’s hearing. Just Monday, The Post broke yet another bombshell story: Trump had personally tried to get both the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Michael S. Rogers, to publicly deny that there was any collusion between the Trump camp and the Russians. The Trump requests came after then-FBI Director James B. Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20 and publicly confirmed, for the first time, that the bureau was investigating “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Both men refused Trump’s entreaties. Then, on May 9, Trump fired Comey, one day before meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The New York Times subsequently reported that Trump had told the Russian officials that he had fired “nut job” Comey to relieve “great pressure” from the Russia investigation.
The thrust of Republican questions yesterday was to elicit sound bites from Brennan to support the White House's contention that there is no there there. In saner times, one might seriously consider that not whether or not there was collusion, Trump had attempted multiple times to obstruct a federal investigation. But these are not saner times. And these are not saner Republicans trying to protect Trump.
On All In with Chris Hayes last night, Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks bluntly declared Trump's actions "completely illegal ... obstruction of justice." Asked by Hayes whether Trump could be obstructing an investigation into something he didn't do (presumably because the win-obsessed president might simply want to kill any suggestion he had help getting elected), Wine-Banks replied "you don't engage in the kind of behavior here if there isn't an underlying crime." The question is, what is it?
This week is already looking like a replay of last week. It's trouble every day.
Well I'm about to get sick
From watchin' my TV
Been checkin' out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it's gonna change, my friend
Is anybody's guess
The New Orleans mayor gave a speech for the books explaining the necessity of taking down the confederate monuments at long last:
Thank you for coming. The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way – for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans: the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Color, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of Francexii and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more. You see: New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one.
But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth. And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts. The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for. After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous ‘Cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago so we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and more perfect union. Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all of our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history … on a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.” A piece of stone – one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored. As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought. So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race. I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes. Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth. And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and, most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division, and yes, with violence. To literally put the confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.
History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.
And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.
Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.
Here is the essential truth: we are better together than we are apart. Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world?
We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz; the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures.
Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think. All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity.
We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it!
And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say “wait, not so fast.”
But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.”
We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now. No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.
While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts, not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.
Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side.
Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.
He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.”
Yes, Terence, it is, and it is long overdue.
Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.
A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.
We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history, after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces … would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?
We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations.
And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people.
In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals.
We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America.
Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in, all of the way.
It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes.
Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.
After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed.
So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.
Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”
So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.
The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.
As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause.
Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”