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Thursday, May 18, 2017


Maybe not as smart as you

by Tom Sullivan

That was last night.

This morning brings news that Robert Mueller, the newly appointed special counsel for the Trump-Russia investigation, will need to explore at least 18 more communications between the Trump campaign and Russian contacts:

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


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

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

In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.
The report explains that Reuters' sources had seen in the communications "no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion," adding "so far." Trump released a statement last night after the Mueller appointment, saying, "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know –- there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity."
Veterans of previous election campaigns said some contact with foreign officials during a campaign was not unusual, but the number of interactions between Trump aides and Russian officials and others with links to Putin was exceptional.

“It’s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power,” Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, told Reuters.
Republican donors are panicked, as well they should be:
Pangs of fear and frustration are rippling through the Republican donor and operative classes as Donald Trump's self-inflicted wounds threaten to fully derail the GOP legislative agenda and tarnish the party's brand headed into the midterms.

At a Miami donor retreat and at a high-powered Washington dinner, on Capitol Hill and at political firms across the country, Republican donors and operatives this week watched the barrage of bad headlines about Trump with a mixture of awe, angst and anger, worrying about the political implications for their Republican majorities — and about the legal implications for the president.
Asked which of the cascading disclosures about the Trump administration was most disquieting, one donor/fundraiser said, "It's hard to choose."

This will take months to sort out. Trump and his staff may hope his planned five-country foreign trip is a break from the controversies of Washington. But since Trump's task is to consult with foreign officials and his every meeting is, ultimately, about Trump, expect controversy to follow him. Although his staff is trying to prepare him:

Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
Having spent years inside and working with large, international firms, I can say Trump is simply an extreme case. Incompetence comes in all shapes and sizes and degrees. I've met PEs (professional engineers) who are useless and PhDs who are clueless. And even in ordinary circumstances, it is important not to assume that with great wealth and power comes great intelligence and wisdom.

Something Tom Clancy wrote in "Debt of Honor" (1994) has stuck with me for years. In it (ironic, given today's circumstances), Jack Ryan is the president's national security advisor:
“You mean,” Robberton said, opening the basement door to the West Wing.
“You mean to tell me that it's that screwed up?”
  “Paul, you think you're smart?” Jack asked. The question took the Secret Service man aback a little.
  “Yeah, I do. So?”
 “So why do you suppose that anybody else is smarter than you are? They are not, Paul,” Ryan went on. “They have a different job, but it isn't about brains. It's about education and experience. Those people don't know crap about running a criminal investigation. Neither do I. Every job requires brains, Paul. But you can't know them all. Anyway, bottom line, okay? No, they are not any smarter than you, and maybe not as smart as you. It's just that it's their job to run the financial markets, and your job to do something else.”
  “Jesus,” Robberton breathed, dropping off Ryan at his office door.