"Have you had a chance to meet the beautiful Melania yet, Sergey?"
That's what the allegedly nefarious intercepts probably say, now that we know what Nunes the tool was talking about.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., does not know "for sure" whether President Donald Trump or members of his transition team were even on the phone calls or other communications now being cited as partial vindication for the president’s wiretapping claims against the Obama administration, according to a spokesperson.
"He said he'll have to get all the documents he requested from the [intelligence community] about this before he knows for sure," a spokesperson for Nunes said Thursday. Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team executive committee.
At a press conference yesterday, Nunes announced he obtained "dozens of reports" showing the U.S. intelligence community -- through its "normal foreign surveillance" -- "incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition."
But Nunes never said Trump or any of the president's associates personally participated in the communications that were intercepted.
Nevertheless, Nunes called it a "significant" development, and President Trump later said it "somewhat" vindicated his controversial Tweets two weeks ago alleging that President Obama wiretapped him and his campaign.
Based on the limited amount of information provided by Nunes so far, it's possible that foreign officials were overheard talking about Trump transition team members, one intelligence official speculated, as opposed to transition members participating directly in the communications.
"We don't know exactly how it was picked up," Nunes acknowledged yesterday.
There were a lot of complaints from the Freedom Caucus about men having to pay for any insurance policy that includes maternity benefits or mammograms. They met with Trump earlier today to try to hammer out a deal:
Trump agreed to scrap all the Essential Health Benefits, including the provision on pre-existing conditions, the maternity benefits, the kids under 26 --- all of it. They still refused to take yes for an answer. That's what they do.
So Nunes took a bullet today and sort of, kind of admitted that he's busted all norms by running to the White House with his "scoop" that Trump transition officials had been picked up in some surveillance with foreign actors.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Thursday that he regrets informing President Trump of surveillance affecting the president’s transition team before he updated his panel.
“It’s a judgement call on my part,” he told reporters when asked why he spoke with Trump and the media before House Intelligence Committee Democrats.
“At the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you don’t,” Nunes added, noting he could not show the panel information that was given to him by a source.
Nunes declined to disclose his source’s identity when asked if it was the White House.
Read Trump's bizarro interview in the post below and it's not hard to conclude that the White House was the source. Probably Trump himself.
But as much as Nunes may have thrown himself in front of the bus for his president on this --- and may have actually made things worse by pushing this scandal closer to an independent commission, he did succeed in upholding what I like to call Cokie's Law, which says, "it doesn't matter if it's true or not, it's out there."
One of the more unusual characteristics of President Donald Trump and his closest associates is the extent to which they seem to have psychic powers. Recall that on Aug. 21 conservative operative and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone tweeted gleefully, “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel,” referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Lo and behold, on Oct. 7 WikiLeaks released its trove of Podesta’s emails.
It wasn’t long after this that Trump’s close ally, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, exhibited a similar eerie prescience. Days before FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency would examine Clinton emails found on a computer used by Anthony Weiner, Giuliani told Fox News Trump has “got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. . . . I’m talking about some pretty big surprises. . . . . We got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around.” Was he ever right.
Then on March 15, in the wake of the president’s manic early-morning tweetstorm accusing former President Barack Obama of arranging for him to be wiretapped, Trump demonstrated his own awe-inspiring clairvoyance. Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that despite all the denials from every institution and person in a position to know, “You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
Wouldn’t you know it? On Wednesday House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was shown some documents by a “source” that had him so up in arms he couldn’t even take the time to alert the other committee members before he ran to the White House to show the president. When asked if he felt vindicated by this alleged bombshell, Trump replied:
I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.
It’s amazing how Trump and his people are able to see into the future this way, isn’t it?
Of course, Roger Stone is now in the crosshairs of a serious counterintelligence investigation and undoubtedly regrets crowing about what he knew. Giuliani was unceremoniously put out to pasture after it was rumored he helped rogue elements of law enforcement with an anti-Clinton crusade on behalf of Donald Trump. And nobody on the planet really believes that Nunes’ bizarre performance “somewhat” vindicated Trump — or vindicated him at all. Indeed, all Nunes’ stunt did was open the door to a bunch of new questions that Trump may very well regret being asked.
In a nutshell, Nunes claimed that this unnamed source showed him some intelligence intercept from the transition period before Trump took office that indicated members of the Trump team were under surveillance. Inexplicably, the congressman thought it was appropriate to immediately inform the the subject of the investigation and tell the world that he did it. Under questioning in the two (!) press conferences that Nunes held on the matter, it became clear that he was talking about routine legal surveillance of foreign actors that caught some conversations with Trump transition officials. His only complaint was that reports of these intercepts were disseminated inside the government without properly masking the Trump officials’ identities, a process known as “minimization.” (The inadequacy of this protection has been a gripe of civil libertarians for years — something the GOP dismissed as overwrought until it happened to Republicans.)
Since even Nunes admits that this surveillance was routine, why this revelation would “vindicate” Trump’s accusation that Obama wiretapped him remains a mystery. But it certainly didn’t stop Trump defenders from sending up celebratory fireworks.
Devin Nunes should have recused himself from this investigation the moment behavior of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, during the transition came to light, since Nunes was also a member of that transition. (It’s mind-boggling that Republicans who were recently obsessed with the “possible appearance of the potential conflict of interest” of the former secretary of state in 2010 have now decided that demonstrable conflicts in recent months are no longer relevant.) Nunes did not do that obviously. Instead he has basically been running interference for the Trump administration ever since — and frankly not doing a very good job of it.
Neither is he a competent chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Earlier in the week Nunes pretended that he had never heard of the Trump associates who have been widely reported to be under investigation, even though he has been on the record talking about them. And he lamely led GOP members of his committee at Monday’s hearing in a clumsy dance to try to change the subject from the investigation of Russian interference with the election campaign to leaks to the press about the investigation. It didn’t work and served only to make them look as partisan as possible.
Yet after making a fetish out of leaked sensitive and classified information (an issue he and other Republican committee members were not so fastidious about when it came to the interminable Benghazi saga), Nunes was apparently so excited about finding out that some routine intercepts included Trump transition officials that he disclosed their existence without giving a thought to the national security implications. After all, it’s possible that the surveillance his source showed him was pertinent to the investigation.
Nunes’ mini drama came on the heels of a startling Associated Press report on Wednesday morning about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ties to a Russian oligarch known to be very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And late on Wednesday, CNN reported that the FBI had obtained information that some of Trump’s associates may have coordinated the release of information with Russian operatives to damage the Clinton campaign. That makes Nunes’ revelation about additional surveillance of Trump’s transition officials seem downright foolish if his intention was to vindicate the president. When you add it all up, the Trump administration looks guiltier than ever.
This is a transcript of the exchange, with some minor edits. The transcript does not include requests he made of his staff during the interview, or a comment he made after asking to go off the record.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Hey, Michael.
TIME: Hey Mr. President, Thank you for taking the time.
Absolutely. How have you been, OK?
Yeah, it has been a wild couple months. You keep us busy.
Yeah, it’s been good though. It’s been good.
Do you want me to give you a quick overview [of the story]?
Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean it’s, the concept is right. I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s riggedagainst Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things.
But there’s other things you said that haven’t panned out. The peg for this story is the wiretapping hearing on Monday, in which [FBI Director James] Comey and [NSA Director Mike] Rogers testified about your tweets there.
Yeah well if you’d look at, in fact I’ll give you the front page story, and just today I heard, just a little while ago, that Devin Nunes had a news conference, did you hear about this, where they have a lot of information on tapping. Did you hear about that?
One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim thatthree million undocumented people voted in the election…
Well I think I will be proved right about that too.
Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.
But my idea is that whatever the reality of what you are describing, the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV.
Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I’m forming a committee on it.
But there’s no evidence that 3 million people voted with…
We’ll see after the committee. I have people say it was more than that. We will see after we have. But there will be, we are forming a committee. And we are going to do a study on it, a very serious problem.
Is there anything different about making these kinds of predictions without having the factual evidence as President?
I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right. When everyone said I wasn’t going to win the election, I said well I think I would. You know it is interesting, somebody came up to me and said the other day, gee whiz, the New York Times and other people, you know other groups, had you down at one percent, well, I said no I think I am going to win, and people smiled, George Stephanopoulos laughed, you remember. He thought it was very cute, and very funny. Other people smiled. And some people, the smart people or the people that know me didn’t laugh at all. There are people that know me, like Carl Icahn and many others, that didn’t laugh at all, they thought I was going to win, because they understand how I, they understand me. They get it. But you take a look and guess what, I won, and I won easily. I predicted Brexit. Remember they said there was no way to get to 270? Well I ended up at 306. I had election night, 306. But there was no way to get to, in fact I went to Maine four times, four times I went to Maine, because I had to get one vote, because there was no way to get to 270, but I ended up getting to 306. Brexit, I predicted Brexit, you remember that, the day before the event. I said, no, Brexit is going to happen, and everybody laughed, and Brexit happened. Many many things. They turn out to be right. And now today, Devin Nunes, just had a news conference.
I’ll look that up.
Yeah, just had it. Now the problem, the thing is, I’m not sure they are watching anything other than that, let’s see members of Donald Trump transition team, possibly, oh this just came out. This is a Politico story. Members of the Donald Trump Transition team possibly including Trump himself were under surveillance during the Obama administration following November’s election. House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes told reporters, wow. Nunes said, so that means I’m right, Nunes said the surveillance appears to have been ... incidental collection, that does not appear to have been related to concerns over Russia.
But so incidental collection would not be wiretapping of you, it would be wiretapping of…
Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental. Nunes is going to the White House.
Well, he just got this information. This was new information. That was just got. Members, of, let’s see, were under surveillance during the Obama Administration following November’s election. Wow. This just came out. So, ah, just came out.
Mitch will speak for himself. Mitch is a wonderful man. Mitch should speak for himself.
But you don’t see any problems caused by these kinds of controversies. Does this, when we are talking in the press about whether the president was wiretapped or not, is this good for you or bad for you?
Probably neither. Probably neither. What I said, look I said, Donna Brazile had information, and she had information on Hillary’s debate questions. I said why didn’t Hillary apologize. Donna Brazile just admitted that that was right. I said the election was rigged against Bernie, a lot of people agree with that one, a lot of people hated the statement when I made it.
Well that was in a newspaper. No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with, had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald, having breakfast.
That gets close to the heart…
Why do you say that I have to apologize? I’m just quoting the newspaper, just like I quoted the judge the other day, Judge Napolitano, I quoted Judge Napolitano, just like I quoted Bret Baier, I mean Bret Baier mentioned the word wiretap. Now he can now deny it, or whatever he is doing, you know. But I watched Bret Baier, and he used that term. I have a lot of respect for Judge Napolitano, and he said that three sources have told him things that would make me right. I don’t know where he has gone with it since then. But I’m quoting highly respected people from highly respected television networks.
But traditionally people in your position in the Oval Office have not said things unless they can verify they are true.
Well, I’m not, well, I think, I’m not saying, I’m quoting, Michael, I’m quoting highly respected people and sources from major television networks.
I thought it was, I thought it was a disgrace that they could write that.
But let me just, the hypothetical they started with, you have to announce to the country or to the world that some serious national security event has happened, and…
The country believes me. Hey. I went to Kentucky two nights ago, we had 25,000 people in a massive basketball arena. There wasn’t a seat, they had to send away people. I went to Tennessee four nights ago. We had a packed house, they had to send away thousands of people. You saw that, right. Did you see that?
Yes I did.
The country’s not buying it, it is fake media. And the Wall Street Journal is a part of it.
Ok. So you don’t worry that your credibility, that if you’ve cited things that later turn out to be wrong, based on anonymous sources that that hurts you.
Name what’s wrong! I mean, honestly.
Fox News said…
Brexit. Wait a minute. I predicted Brexit. What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out. And when Germany was over here I said, we are going to have a great relationship with Germany but you have to pay your NATO bills, and they don’t even dispute it, ok. So what have I said that is wrong? Everyone, I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right. I got attacked on Brexit, when I was saying, I said long before the day before, I said the day before the opening, but I was saying Brexit was going to pass, and everybody was laughing, and I turned out to be right on that. I took a lot of heat when I said Brexit was going to pass. Don’t forget, Obama said that U.K. will go to the back of the line, and I talked about Sweden, and may have been somewhat different, but the following day, two days later, they had a massive riot in Sweden, exactly what I was talking about, I was right about that.
But even in that Sweden quote, you said look at what happened on Friday in Sweden. But you are now saying you were referring to something that happened the following day.
No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want. A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened. I talked about Brussels. I was on the front page of the New York Times for my quote. I said Brussels is not what it used to be, very sad what has happened to Brussels. I was absolutely lambasted. A short time later they had the major attack in Brussels. One year ago today. Exactly one year ago today. And then people said you know Trump was right. What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right. I’m an instinctual person, I happen to be a person that knows how life works. I said I was going to win the election, I won the election, in fact I was number one the entire route, in the primaries, from the day I announced, I was number one. And the New York Times and CNN and all of them, they did these polls, which were extremely bad and they turned out to be totally wrong, and my polls showed I was going to win. We thought we were going to win the night of the election.
So when you…
And then TIME magazine, which treats me horribly, but obviously I sell, I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.
If you go back to Comey testifying that he and the Justice Department have no information to back up your tweet, the head of the NSA testifying that there is no information to back up your tweet, or the claim made by Judge Napolitano…
On front page of the New York Times, OK? It’s in the title of the front page. And I would like you to officially—I know you are going to write a bad article because you always do—[mention] wiretap data used in inquiry of Trump aides. OK. Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aids. Ok? Can you possibly put that down? Front page, January 20th. Now in their second editions, they took it all down under the internet. They took that out. Ok? But that’s the way it is. And then they just had a news conference now where they turned out, you watch. You watch.
That is different…
I’m not criticizing anybody, I’m just saying.
That is different that the president wiretapping you which would be a crime outside of a court.
Well I don’t know where these wiretaps came from. They came from someplace. That is what they should find out. And you know the real story here is about the leakers. OK? You don’t write about that. But the real story here is, who released General Flynn’s name? Who released, who released my conversations with Australia, and who released my conversation with Mexico? To me, Michael, that’s the story, these leakers, they are disgusting. These are horrible people.
And apparently there is an investigation into that as well.
Well should be, because that’s where the whole, who would think that you are speaking to the head of Mexico, the head of Australia, or General Flynn, who was, they are not supposed to release that. That is the most confidential stuff. Classified. That’s classified. You go to prison when you release stuff like that. And who would release that? The real story is, they have to work, intelligence has to work on finding out who are the leakers. Because you know what? When things get involved with North Korea and all the problems we have there, in the Middle East, I mean, that information cannot be leaked out, and it will be by this, this same, and these people were here in the Obama years, because he had plenty of leakers also. But intelligence has to find out, who are these people. Because the biggest story here is, who is leaking this classified information.
But isn’t there, it strikes me there is still an issue of credibility. If the intelligence community came out and said, we have determined that so and so is the leaker here, but you are saying to me now, that you don’t believe the intelligence community when they say your tweet was wrong.
I’m not saying—no, I’m not blaming. First of all, I put Mike Pompeo in. I put Senator Dan Coats in. These are great people. I think they are great people and they are going to, I have a lot of confidence in them. So hopefully things will straighten out. But I inherited a mess, I inherited a mess in so many ways. I inherited a mess in the Middle East, and a mess with North Korea, I inherited a mess with jobs, despite the statistics, you know, my statistics are even better, but they are not the real statistics because you have millions of people that can’t get a job, ok. And I inherited a mess on trade. I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that’s the story. Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody OK?
American voters disapprove 56 - 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided, of the Republican health care plan to replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Support among Republicans is a lackluster 41 - 24 percent.
If their U.S. Senator or member of Congress votes to replace Obamacare with the Republican health care plan, 46 percent of voters say they will be less likely to vote for that person, while 19 percent say they will be more likely and 29 percent say this vote won't matter, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds.
Disapproval of the Republican plan is 56 - 22 percent among men, 56 - 13 percent among women, 54 - 20 percent among white voters, 64 - 10 percent among non-white voters, 80 - 3 percent among Democrats, 58 - 14 percent among independent voters and by margins of 2-1 or more in every age group.
One out of every seven Americans, 14 percent, think they will lose their health insurance under the Republican plan. That 14 percent includes 27 percent of voters in families with household income below $30,000, 18 percent of working class families and 14 percent of middle class families.
Fewer Americans would be covered under the GOP plan than are covered under Obamacare, 61 percent of voters find, while 8 percent say more would be covered and 18 percent say the number would be about the same.
"Replacing Obamacare will come with a price for elected representatives who vote to scrap it, say many Americans, who clearly feel their health is in peril under the Republican alternative," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
It is "very important" that health insurance be affordable for all Americans, 85 percent of voters say. Another 13 percent say it is "somewhat important."
When it is explained that federal funding for Planned Parenthood is used only for non- abortion health issues, American voters oppose cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood 80 - 14 percent, including 60 - 32 percent among Republicans. In a simple question, without the explanation, voters oppose cutting Planned Parenthood funding 61 - 33 percent.
Voters also oppose 74 - 22 percent, including 54 - 39 percent among Republicans, cutting federal funding for Medicaid.
Only 12 percent of American voters say the Republican health care plan would have a positive impact on their health care, as 30 percent say it will have a negative impact and 50 percent say it will have no impact.
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress should repeal all of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 20 percent of voters say. Another 50 percent say repeal parts of the ACA and 27 percent say don't repeal any of the ACA.
Voters disapprove 61 - 29 percent of the way President Trump is handling health care.
In the flood of news this morning what stands out is the general dyspepsia behind so much of it. Being pissed off now seems to be policy itself, or else the result of it.
In London, a yet-unidentified attacker in an SUV ran down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, crashed into a wall outside the Houses of Parliament, then stabbed a policeman to death before being shot and killed himself by police. Five are known dead, including the attacker. Dozens are injured, some severely. Police suspect a connection to "Islamic terrorism in some form".
In New York, police detained a white supremacist for murder:
A white supremacist used a sword to kill a black homeless man in Manhattan, telling investigators he went to the city because he "wanted to make a statement," reports say.
James Harris Jackson, 28, of Baltimore, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, is accused of driving a 26-inch sword with an 18-inch blade through the chest of Timothy Caughman, 66, at 11:15 p.m. Monday as Caughman was searching for cans and bottles to recycle, ABC News reports .
Jackson went to New York City for better media coverage.
These are bizarre and unhappy times for Donald Trump. Or should we say, Sad!? His Obamacare repeal may fail today in the House. And worse.
“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” historian Douglas Brinkley told the Washington Post after FBI Director James Comey testified on Monday that there is an investigation into Trump's Russia connections:
“Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.”
Brinkley went on to say that he has never seen a new president grow so unpopular so quickly, as Trump’s low approval ratings combined with the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia have created massive storm clouds hanging over his presidency.
“This is the most failed first 100 days of any president,” he said. “To be as low as he is in the polls, in the 30s, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don’t know how it can get much worse.”
At Slate, Katy Waldman writes about Trump's sad, angry tenure. Trump got the job he dreamed of. He'd be the boss of everybody. Turns out it's no fun. He has to meet with foreign leaders who make him look like a sullen, scolded child. The intelligence services listen in on his colleagues' conversations with Russians. At least Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has an excuse. He didn't want his job. Waldman writes:
Why is Trump so out of sorts? It could be that he’s simply found, in fire-and-brimstone Donald, his latest role. Yet it seems equally likely that Trump has stumbled into an Aesop’s fable of his own making. Having received what he so fervently wished for, he’s now found that leading the free world is a miserable chore. Trump, who loves Trump more than he loves anything else, used to jet around selling that self-love to voters. Now he’s stuck in meetings pondering policies and ideologies that matter a whole lot more to the American people than they matter to him. As a candidate, he got to accuse the establishment of trashing the country. He played hype-man for a future in which he’d refresh our ideals. Now he’s accountable in the present to all the men and women whose lives haven’t become fairy tales since he took office. That’s not fun. That’s a full-time job, and that’s the one thing Donald Trump has never wanted.
Yet another weirdly sexualized photo of Dad and daughter
Here's one I haven't heard before:
Watching TV commentators applaud him for containing himself for a little over an hour was like hearing a parent praise a difficult child for not pooping in his pants during a pre-school interview. Besides, vintage Trump is not going anywhere anytime soon. A couple of weeks earlier, during a visit by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, the president told an acquaintance that he was obsessed with the translator’s breasts—although he expressed this in his own, fragrant fashion.
And if they have to purge the executive branch of all but the most loyal Republicans, even civil servants, so be it.And if they spread their names all over the wingnut media and get the gun toting nutballs all riled up, that's just the way the game is played now:
Conservative news outlets, including one with links to a top White House official, are singling out individual career government employees for criticism, suggesting in articles that certain staffers will not be sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump by virtue of their work under former President Barack Obama.
The articles — which have appeared in Breitbart News, the Conservative Review, and other outlets — have alarmed veteran officials in both parties as well as current executive branch staffers. They say the stories are adding to tensions between career staffers and political appointees as they begin to implement Trump's agenda, and they worry that the stories could inspire Trump to try purging federal agencies of perceived enemies.
The claims posted on the conservative sites include allegations of anti-Israel and pro-Iran bias against staffers at institutions such as the State Department and the National Security Council. Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman Steve Bannon is now Trump’s chief strategist, has even published lists of workers that the president should fire.
Washington veterans say they can't recall similar targeting of government employees, who are required to stay apolitical and generally shun the spotlight.
"It’s deeply unfair to single people out and question their loyalty,” said William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former longtime diplomat, “It’s demoralizing for institutions. It’s demoralizing for professionals, and it’s offensive.”
Elliott Abrams, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration who was passed over last month for the role of deputy secretary of state because of his past criticism of Trump, agreed with Burns. Career staffers, he said "are trying to do their jobs and will respond to presidential leadership — including from a new president when an administration changes.”
U.S. civil and foreign service officers have long been seen by Republicans and Democrats as the backbone of government — subject matter experts who help political appointees administer their policy agenda regardless of who serves as commander-in-chief. But many in the Trump administration and its allies on the right are skeptical of career staffers, believing they are part of an American “deep state” that is working in secret to undermine the president.
Several people who have been targeted did not respond to requests for comment. But one said the information being spread was unnerving, in part because even if Trump's top aides don't always believe the reports they read in the conservative press, they may still feel pressure to act from voters in the Republican base who do believe the accounts.
“I, of course, worry about the fact that there are people inside the administration and outside it who may believe what they read in these things, who don’t necessarily appreciate what it means to be a career staffer,” said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for job protection reasons. “Most people don’t understand that that does not come with politics attached.”
There's more. And it's creepy. But Trump did say that he believed the victor was entitled to the spoils and on of the big spoils is the ability to give out patronage jobs to your lackeys.I have to believe that's a big part of this.
As the confirmation hearings continue for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, we’re getting wind of some interesting rulings he has made through the course of his judicial career. “Interesting” in the sense of giving us a glimpse of his character.
One of the most riveting moments in the Gorsuch hearing occurred when Minnesota Senator Al Franken questioned Gorsuch about his ruling in a case involving a truck driver who got fired after he disobeyed a supervisor and abandoned his trailer that he was driving, because he was on the verge of freezing to death. The truck driver couldn’t drive off with the trailer, because the trailer’s brakes had frozen. In the case, Judge Gorsuch cast the sole dissent ruling in favor of the trucking company against the trucker.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: There were two safety issues here: one, the possibility of freezing to death, or driving with that rig in a very, very—a very dangerous way. Which would you have chosen? Which would you have done, Judge?
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Oh, Senator, I don’t know what I would have done if I were in his shoes, and I don’t blame him at all, for a moment, for doing what he did do.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: But—but—but—
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: I empathize with him entirely.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: OK, just you’ve—we’ve been talking about this case. Don’t—you don’t—you haven’t decided what you would have done? You haven’t thought about, for a second, what you would have done in his case?
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Oh, Senator, I thought a lot about this case, because I—
SEN. AL FRANKEN: And what would you have done?
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: I totally empathize and understand—
SEN. AL FRANKEN: I’m asking you a question. Please answer questions.
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Senator, I don’t know. I wasn’t in the man’s shoes. But I understand why he did—
SEN. AL FRANKEN: You don’t know what you would have done.
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: I understand—
SEN. AL FRANKEN: OK, I’ll tell you what I would have done. I would have done exactly what he did.
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Yeah, I understand that.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: I think everybody here would have done exactly what he did. … It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it. And it makes me—you know, it makes me question your judgment.
He seems nice. While that case is getting a lot of press, it’s only part of a larger pattern that emerges when you study his past. Corporate America will have a real SCOTUS bud in Neil Gorsuch; because they can rest assured they won’t lose any more of those $400 handcarts:
When asked if he felt vindicated after the Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes rushed up to the White House to share a leak with him (and the media) which says that some Trump transition officials were incidentally surveilled and "unmasked" by intelligence agencies:
"I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do."
He feels "somewhat" vindicated that Devin Nunes broke every protocol to hold a news conference designed to give the president cover for his manic 4 AM tweet two weeks ago.
Unfortunately for him, Nunes is a moron and has opened a Pandora's Box by saying that the intercepts had nothing to do with Russia and implying that there are other FISA warrants out there that picked up conversations with Trump officials. If he hadn't said that one might have assumed that these were the kind of incidental routine intercepts of conversations with foreigners that don't require a FISA warrant. He seems confused.
One thing is now crystal clear. Nunes cannot run the House intelligence committee investigation. As a member of Trump's transition team he should have recused himself from the beginning. Now he's so obviously tainted that he made the best cast yet for an Independent commission and/or a special prosecutor. He should not be given any more access to intelligence reports. After spending the whole day on Monday ragging on leaks to James Comey he just went out and held a press conference hurling charges based upon a ... leak.
Defense Secretary James Mattis’ unconventional choices for top Pentagon posts and his reluctance to aggressively push for dramatic increases in the defense budget have rankled Republicans on Capitol Hill who say he’s burning through political capital he needs as he begins reshaping the Pentagon. Mattis was widely embraced on both sides of the aisle when President Donald Trump nominated him. Republicans and Democrats alike expressed hope that the retired four-star general would be a moderating force on the volatile commander in chief.
But Republican lawmakers and senior congressional aides said in recent interviews they’re running out of patience with Mattis' staffing decisions, which have disappointed Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee hoping to see their ideological allies elevated to senior levels in the Defense Department. Others are grumbling about Mattis’ refusal to advocate a bigger increase in the defense budget, which defense hawks believe was gutted disastrously under President Barack Obama. “He certainly has got a tough job, but it sometimes feels like he forgets that we won the election,” said one aide to a GOP senator on the Armed Services Committee, who declined to speak on the record for fear of publicly alienating the defense secretary.
“We’ve waited eight years for this, to be able to fill these posts with Republicans,” said another top GOP Hill staffer. “We know Trump isn’t part of the establishment and that it’s going to be a bit different, but it should go without saying that a Republican administration is expected to staff federal agencies with Republicans.”
When a Democrat is president these same wingnuts demand that the Secretary of Defense himself must be a Republican. And the FBI Director and any number of other slots. And the Democrats acquiesce every time. When the shoe is on the other foot, the GOP demands a full purge and replacement with ideological zealots.
I wonder how long Mattis is going to last. He seems to be on a collision course with Bannon and the far-right. I guess it's up to Trump. Oh God.
If the great dealmaker can't even get the House Republicans to agree ...
I wrote about the "great negotiator's" weak skills along with other health care observations for Salon this morning:
Throughout Barack Obama’s administration, the Republicans in Congress griped that the president wasn’t sufficiently respectful of their beliefs or willing to conduct the necessary bipartisan “outreach.” President Obama did, of course, go out of his way to try to gain the support of Republicans, spending years attempting to put into effect his “grand bargain,” which was designed to settle a number of big-ticket items on both sides of the aisle. To no avail.
His famous debut speech to the 2004 Democratic convention was all about blue-state and red-state America being one. When Obama decided to run for president in 2007, he said this:
I have always had extraordinarily good relations with very conservative colleagues. And that’s not because I agree with any of them or fudge on my positions, but people feel I listen to them and give them the benefit of the doubt. I assume the best of people.
Obama was going to “fix Washington.” When the Republicans laughed in his face and adopted a policy of total obstruction, he was deemed a failure for being unable to fulfill his promise.
Donald Trump is in no danger of that particular failure. He made a few vague references to bringing people together, but it always sounded like he left off the “or else” at the end of the sentence. Certainly nobody expected that after eight years of GOP obstruction and the most disgusting campaign in history, Democrats were going to meet this president halfway. So far, they have not.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced that he’s going to hold the vote on his Trumpcare bill on Thursday and the GOP is completely on their own. After the devastating Congressional Budget Office report knocked members of the House leadership back on their heels with terrible headlines all over the country (followed closely by more terrible headlines about Trump’s budget), Ryan and company threw on some patches that they hoped would appease enough nervous members to pass the bill and throw this toxic hot potato to the Senate.
House leaders have thrown some money at constituents ages 50 to 64 (whose insurance would become unaffordable under Trumpcare), but most analysts say this measure would barely make a dent in the problem. Ryan has attempted to further appease the bloodthirsty Freedom Caucus, which is demanding that Medicaid be destroyed as quickly as possible. Until that happens, Republicans appear to have agreed that sick, poor people must be required to have a job before they can see a doctor.
There’s no word yet on whether this proposal would include the millions of elderly who depend upon Medicaid to pay their nursing home costs, which is the largest single outlay in the Medicaid budget. Perhaps Trump’s promised jobs initiative includes work that can be done from wheelchairs and hospital beds.
Whip counts early in the week were not promising. The Freedom Caucus is so rigidly committed to full repeal its members say they won’t be satisfied with anything less than throwing out every person using Obamacare and Medicaid on their own immediately. More moderate members concerned with keeping their seats in districts where Democrat Hillary Clinton won or came close are terrified that this draconian bill spells doom for their careers. Tellingly, very few have indicated that their main concern is the tens of millions of people who will suffer if this bill passes.
Having seen the Breitbart headlines, Ryan understands that Trump might prefer the bill to fail so he could keep ragging on Obama for a few more years. Ryan also perceives that conservative knives are out for him once again, ready to hold him responsible for any failure to repeal the hated program. So the speaker has made the shrewd move of flattering the president like a well trained manservant, calling Trump “the ultimate closer” and tying him to the success of the vote as tightly as possible.
On Tuesday Ryan even persuaded the president to make a rare trek to Capitol Hill to make a patented Trump sales pitch to an excited GOP caucus. According to The Washington Post, Trump didn’t even try to make a case for the bill on the merits, likely because he has no idea what they are. Instead, he issued a veiled threat to “go after” those who failed to vote for the bill and complained that “we won’t have these crowds if we don’t get this done.” The president added, “I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don’t get this done.”
Trump doesn’t seem to understand that the “yuge” crowds these legislators are getting aren’t cheering ecstatically. They’re protesting:
The general consensus is that despite his insistence that the meeting was “terrific” and “tremendous” the greatest salesman in the world didn’t make the sale. As of Tuesday night, most whip counts still had the bill falling short.
It’s interesting to see how much this process mirrors the Democratic Sturm und Drang over the Affordable Care Act back in 2009. The Democrats did take their time to write the bill carefully, which hasn’t happened this time around. They held extensive hearings and listened to expert analyses. But the politics were very fraught, with progressives fighting for more ambitious coverage and conservative Democrats worried about the same folks back home that Republicans are worried about today
Politico reported at the time that the conservative Blue Dog Democrats were under tremendous pressure from their constituents and told the president about it. They reminded him that many of them had been down the health care reform road 14 years before when Bill Clinton tried to pass it and were wary of the political pitfalls:
Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry said, “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”
That didn’t work out too well. The 2010 midterm elections were an electoral massacre that brought the Tea Party to power in Congress.
Maybe Trump’s veiled threat to punish Republicans in 2018 if they don’t vote for the bill will bring enough reluctant congressmen around by Thursday. But his threats don’t guarantee a midterm victory for Republicans any more than Obama’s promises did for Democrats.
At least the Democrats who lost having voted for the Affordable Care Act could feel they had sacrificed their seats for something that alleviated pain and suffering for millions of people. Republicans are now fretting that they’ll be similarly punished for failing to bring all that pain and suffering back. You have to wonder if a few of them wonder what kind of a devil’s bargain they’ve made.
President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
"We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
Manafort's plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.
The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort's ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.
In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as "inappropriate or nefarious" as part of a "smear campaign."
"I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments," Manafort said. "My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia's political interests."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's critics in the Senate, called the disclosures about payments to Manafort from the Russian billionaire "very disturbing if true."
"That's basically taking money to stop the spread of democracy, and that would be very disturbing to me," he said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
We still don't know what Trump and his pals knew. But this man was Trump's campaign chairman. And he worked for free, something Trump might have questioned, since the guy isn't the sort that does something like that.
I haven't leaned very far into the Russian story because I honestly find the simplest answer --- Trump is a vain, moron --- to be the likeliest answer. It's obvious that the Russian government interfered in the campaign and that's worrying enough. Trump is most likely vulnerable to corruption and coercion because of his business conflicts in my opinion which are obviously disqualifying.
But this is something else:
Manafort and his associates remain in Trump's orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort's former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump's inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.
Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort's firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska but was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort's firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump's presidential campaign.
In another of his strong pieces in New York magazine, Frank Rich takes the liberal media Establishment and Democratic politicians to task for wasting "time and energy chasing unreachable voters in the base of Trump’s electorate."* That is, for trying to work up empathy for Trump voters in a kind of post-9/11 redux: Why do they hate us?
"Perhaps they should hate us," Rich writes, and gives them more reason to in 4,000 words or so.
Rich believes chasing centrist think tank Third Way (I'm not a fan) down a $20 million rabbit hole in the Rust Belt, as its Clintonista president insists, to “restore Democrats as a national party that can win everywhere” is a fool's errand. As is poring over Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash or J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to discover elusive common ground with "the Trumpentariat" and perhaps the key to their opioid-numbed hearts.
After delving into some profiles in self-destructiveness and victimhood in Trump country, Rich concludes:
Perhaps it’s a smarter idea to just let the GOP own these intractable voters. Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the election’s consequences. If, as polls tell us, many voters who vilify Obamacare haven’t yet figured out that it’s another name for the Affordable Care Act that’s benefiting them — or if they do know and still want the Trump alternative — then let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests. That they will sabotage other needy Americans along with them is unavoidable in any case now — at least until voters stage an intervention in an election to come.
Trump voters should also be reminded that the elite of the party they’ve put in power is as dismissive of them as Democratic elites can be condescending. “Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap,” Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National Review. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.” He was only saying in public what other Republicans like Mitt Romney say about the “47 percent” in private when they think only well-heeled donors are listening. Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used their ballots to commit assisted suicide?
The problem with Rich's analysis is the "election to come" part. Elections involve math. At the end of Election Day we count votes. Not empathy, not good intentions, not programs, not policies, and not hurt feelings. Whether Democrats can win back control of Congress and state legislatures is about numbers.
Another problem — and this is hardly Rich's alone — is that "Trump voters" always seems to imply red states, or to at least to conflate red states with Trump voters. And after reading Rich's take on Trump voters, the knee-jerk response is to say to hell with them. But there are more than Republican voters in those red states. Those states each get two U.S. senators and a number of representatives; they each have governors and legislatures, many dominated by Republicans just as crazy as Trump. Abandoning them is not a progressive option.
Democratic activists should not hold their breaths waiting for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) to come to Jesus and become more than "old boys" reelection funds. And the jury is out on whether a Democratic National Committee that snapped up Hillary for America veterans who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory will, as promised, restore Howard Dean's 50 state plan in more than name only, or adopt a time horizon that looks beyond the next election. Their focus on (what they consider) sure bets is why state organizations have withered since Obama pulled the plug on "50 state." But liberal, grassroots activists cannot ignore red states unless they have started ignoring math the way Trump voters ignore climate science. Nationally and locally the numbers don't add up for winning back Congress and writing off red states. (Ask Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina what it means leaving state legislatures in Republican hands.) Liberals cannot have both a winning 50 state plan and a policy, as Rich's piece implies, of giving 60 percent of states the middle finger.
If you don't show up to play, you forfeit. Too many Republican sinecures in red states go uncontested because dispirited Democrats there have neither the training, the funding, nor the infrastructure to contest them. When Dean sent organizers into such places in 2005, some had not heard from the national party in years. By 2006, Democrats were chalking up big wins. Conditions are ripe for them to do so again.
Swing states that went red in November aren't necessarily all that red. In North Carolina, 2.2 million voters (46%) chose Hillary Clinton for president. 2.1 million (45%) chose former ACLU attorney Deborah Ross for U.S. Senate. We should be careful where we aim the broad brush with the red paint. There are a lot of supporters in those "red" states, and they've had their share of being ignored by Democrats' shortsighted bi-coastal presidential strategy.
Post inauguration, both those groups living out where rural Republicans control state house and senate seats have even more reason than white liberals to channel their anger into action.
That brings up yet another math-related reason for not tossing out red state babies with Grover Norquist's bathwater. Since November 8, the activist momentum among progressives is impressive, an unintended consequence of the Trump win:
Republicans in Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas had best not look over their shoulders.
It would be a shame to squander all that fresh activism and youthful enthusiasm on misdirected anger. But perhaps that's what Rich meant by suggesting Democrats weaponize it. "Instead of studying how to talk to 'real people,'” he wrote, "might they start talking like real people?" Absolutely. So long as they do it not from TV studios but on the stump in districts and in races they need to win to regain majorities in state houses and in Congress. As The King suggested, "A little less conversation, a little more action."
Trump's win has produced an outpouring of progressive activism not seen since 2008. Obama fired up Democrats, but not like Orange Julius. Counties across North Carolina and elsewhere are seeing record numbers of organized Democratic precincts and Democratic meetings overflowing, and in a non-election year. In red states where Republicans are accustomed to Democrats sitting out mid-term elections, groups like Our Revolution, Indivisible, and others are organizing to retake state capitols and Congress. When Trump voters find out what their votes will cost them, they'll be the ones staying home in 2018. Those too are unintended consequences from the last election angry Democrats would be fools not to seize on. The best defense and all that.
* Notice I didn't use Judge Gorsuch's "Democrat judge" formulation.