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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trouble brewing in the inner circle?

by digby

I wrote about the latest Palace intrigue for Salon this morning:

Last night President Trump fired Sally Yates,the acting Attorney General because, citing both the law and the constitution she ordered the Department of Justice not to defend his ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the US. Republicans all applauded the firing, calling her insubordinate because it was her job to carry out his orders, no questions asked. Democrats hailed her as a hero for asserting the independence that's supposed to be conferred upon the office. To back them up they produced footage of Senator Jeff Sessions himself telling her in her confirmation hearing that she was obligated to say no if she believed the president's order were unlawful.

At this point it would behoove the Senate to think very, very hard about whether it makes sense to confirm Sessions as the new attorney general. It's hard to imagine that would ever say no if Donald Trump wanted him to execute and unlawful order. On the other hand, it's also hard to imagine that Trump would ever ask him to execute an unlawful order he didn't enthusiastically agree should be executed so perhaps it's a moot point. Nonetheless this crisis should induce Democrats to stiffen their spines and vote against Sessions. According to this Washington Post article,this is just a preview of what's to come:
The early days of the Trump presidency have rushed a nationalist agenda long on the fringes of American life into action — and Sessions, the quiet Alabam­ian who long cultivated those ideas as a Senate backbencher, has become a singular power in this new Washington.

Sessions’s ideology is driven by a visceral aversion to what he calls “soulless globalism,” a term used on the extreme right to convey a perceived threat to the United States from free trade, international alliances and the immigration of nonwhites.
Sessions’s nomination is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his influence in the administration stretches far beyond the Justice Department. From immigration and health care to national security and trade, Sessions is the intellectual godfather of the president’s policies. His reach extends throughout the White House, with his aides and allies accelerating the president’s most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe.
Even Republicans should be leery of confirming this man as the nation's most powerful law enforcement official. But they are afraid. As former GOP congressman Richard Jolly told Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC last night, "the reason Republicans won't speak out is because we have a president who will destroy you with a single tweet."

Still, it's not entirely impossible. If the Democrats all stuck together it would only require three Republicans to say no. I have no idea who those profiles in courage in might be. And anyway, Sessions has ideological tentacles throughout the new new administration. According to the Post:
The author of many of Trump’s executive orders is senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a Sessions confidant who was mentored by him and who spent the weekend overseeing the government’s implementation of the refu­gee ban. The tactician turning Trump’s agenda into law is deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, Sessions’s longtime chief of staff in the Senate. The mastermind behind Trump’s incendiary brand of populism is chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who, as chairman of the Breitbart website, promoted Sessions for years.
So even if he ends up back in the Senate, his antediluvian ideology will be over-represented in the Trump administration. There's no escaping it.

Of course a big part of the problem with the Trump administration isn't ideological, although that's certainly an issue. It's also the incompetence and that's turning out to be overwhelming. It's no longer a simple matter of an amateur hour convention or a poorly planned inauguration. It's not even about a clownish display of celebrities traipsing through the lobby of Trump Tower and calling it a transition. They have a real job now and they are executing it very, very poorly. (One might even say that they are running the country the way Donald Trump ran the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City --- which went bankrupt.)

And then there is the palace intrigue, the details of which are leaking like the Titanic to every reporter in Washington. Over the past few days we've been hearing a lot about Sessions and his proteges and about Steve Bannon, Trump's apparent Razputin who has been elevated to an exalted position as adviser on foreign policy. And this raised the question of what happened to the crazed alt-right General, Michael Flynn, who was supposed to be Trump's Patton, MacArthur  and Blackjack Pershing all rolled into one. Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times got the scoop on that: it looks as though he has seriously lost favor.

While Flynn was a favorite of Trump's when he was heaping contempt upon Hillary Clinton, evidently he hasn't worn well with the boss since they vanquished her. They say he talks too much and his son has been a thorn in their side. There are also whispers about him being too close to certain fringe characters which is true but also self-serving since Bannon and Trump himself are closely tied to the same elements. According to the NY Times' juicy dish, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis and Mike Pompeo all convened a meeting this week and didn't invite poor Flynn because he was the subject of discussion. The claws are definitely out.

This may be the most encouraging bit of news we've had since Trump was inaugurated. Sessions and his crew are scary ideologues. Bannon is a frighteningly adept propagandist with a dangerous worldview. Mike Pence and Paul Ryan are far right conservative movement zealots with a blank check. Trump himself is unfit and over his head.  And the whole administration is clearly incompetent on every level. But Michael Flynn seems to be certifiably unhinged even by the standards of this unbalanced crew so if they are looking for ways to ease him out, thank goodness for small favors. One less kook in a White House full of them is a baby step in the right direction. We'll take it.