There are a number of perplexing events unfolding in and around the White House. My sense is that many Americans are uninterested, unaware, or just minding their own business until all of the facts are in. I hope that the lack of concern is the latter and not that we as a nation have become inured to the unprecedented developments and are numb to the plethora of constant noise and fury emanating from the White House. There are so, so many troubling developments surrounding this administration. Thus far, only one is an existential threat to our democracy.
Yes, Russia again.
It is now over two weeks since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations as another step in the ongoing investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in our 2016 election. The indictment shows that the clear intent of their actions was to undermine the presidential election by active measures to disrupt the process, and specifically, to hurt Secretary Hillary Clinton and to favor the election of Mr. Donald Trump. But don’t take my word for it, if you haven’t done so already, read the full 37 page indictment. The indictment details how the Russians conducted “information warfare against the United States of America.” Warfare.
News reports today indicate that Mr. Mueller will soon file more indictments, this time specifically naming Russian hackers and outlining their methods in stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Secretary Clinton’s campaign manager Mr. John Podesta. Please recall that the hacking of the DNC and the campaign were the original reasons for the investigation into the Russian meddling.
Additional reports inform us that seven states had their systems compromised in some way including in at least two cases, getting into the voter registration data bank. Attempts were made on a total of twenty-one states to get into the voting system. While there is no evidence to date that any actual votes were compromised or voter information changed to prevent people from voting, many experts consider these to be “probing attacks” to find vulnerabilities for exploitation in the future such as in the 2018 mid-term elections and/or the 2020 national elections.
Last month the heads of the major U.S. intelligence agencies testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the Russian meddling attacks. This included the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. General Robert Ashley and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo. They were in agreement that the Russians did interfere and that it would happen again. As Director Coats put it, “There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian midterm operations.”
When asked by committee member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) if the FBI had been directed by the president to take any specific actions against the Russians, FBI Director Wray said the FBI is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter the Russians but was “not specifically directed by the president.” If you saw the body language as Mr. Wray answered, it would sound even worse than it does here.
And it does get worse.
This week during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency and the head of the U.S. military Cyber Command, said that he was using his existing authorities to combat the Russian attacks. When asked a question similar to that asked last month of Director Wray — had the president given him any direction — he acknowledged that the president had not asked his agencies that are charged with conducting cyberoperations to find ways to counter the attackers and had not been granted new authorities to conduct counter operations.
Director Wray and Admiral Rogers are saying that they are on the defensive and doing the best that they can. However, they are inhibited by the apparent lack of interest from the Commander-in-Chief and have been given no authorization to go on the offensive. I am sure that the hard-working men and women in the intelligence agencies are doing what they can to protect our country, but they are having to do so with their hands tied and with no consequences for our attacker.
Here is the plain truth from Admiral Rogers during his testimony:
“President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore ‘I can continue this activity.’ Clearly what we have done hasn’t been enough.”
I can go on, but you know the story. And it isn’t pretty.
Here are Mr. Trump’s responses, warnings, actions, deterrent activities, and punishments for Russia, in order: Bumpkiss, Nada, Zilch, Nothing, Goose Egg, Diddly-Squat.
Thank you Commander-in-Chief for keeping us safe from our adversaries and protecting our greatest democratic principle.
The latest story from the administration is that it is all President Obama’s fault. Should one take that story hook, line and sinker, it still begs the question as to why the president, in office for nearly 14 months, has directed nothing to be done to dissuade and deter further Russian meddling, much less to punish them and hold them accountable for their actions in 2016. He won’t even implement the sanctions voted on by both parties in the House (by a vote of 419-3) and Senate (98-2) last year designed specifically to punish Russia for their attack.
Why? The most common answer from pundits, politicians and prognosticators is that in his eyes, to even acknowledge that the Russians interfered, much less to help him as delineated in Mr. Mueller’s court papers, lessens his election victory and somehow makes it less legitimate.
I have other ideas as to why he won’t hold Russia and Vladimir Putin accountable for their actions, but so far, that would be pure speculation. Let’s go with the “my feelings would be hurt” reason.
Why does anyone accept that as an answer? Even if he feels that way, he is the president. As president he took an oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” To my knowledge there is nothing that precludes that responsibility just because the president’s ego may be bruised. As Commander-in-Chief he has an obligation to do his duty. If he refuses, then he is derelict in his duties as delineated in the Constitution.
Why do we continue to pretend otherwise?
It is likely that by the time you read this post, a classified memo put together under disputed circumstances, will be released to the public. The entire process and related story is long, arcane, a little bit of “inside baseball” and dangerous to the rule of law.
In short, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee had his staffers compose a memo accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) of misusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the investigation of the Russian interference in our 2016 election. In contrast, the Democrats on the committee, the DOJ and the FBI argue that Congressman Nunes misused the data that was reluctantly turned over to him to present a misleading portrayal of how the system was used and indeed to condemn the system itself. As the story unfolds, remember that the protesting members of the DOJ and of the FBI, including Director Chris Wray are appointees put in office by the current president.
The DOJ and FBI are concerned on two fronts. First, the memo could reveal sensitive “sources and methods” to our adversaries. (Sources meaning where intelligence comes from and methods meaning the ways in which the intelligence is collected.) It is not hyperbole to say that this could easily put lives at stake. Second, they are concerned that the memo will inaccurately portray the way that the FISA warrants (issued by a special court for wiretaps and other methods of collecting information on suspected foreign operatives and their collaborators) are obtained and thereby undermine the confidence of us, as citizens, in the process and in the results.
Mr. Nunes is using an arcane rule of Congress to release the information. The rule has never — never — been used before. The intent of the rule is to provide a method for revealing relevant information when there is a gross misuse of intelligence that provides a clear and present danger to the nation. Mr. Nunes is using it for purely political purposes. At best, he is attempting to sow doubt about the investigation into Russian interference conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, thus undermining possible damaging information about the president. At worst, he is aiding and abetting the president in providing a rationale for ending the investigation entirely.
As background I point out that this week the president refused to implement sanctions against Russia under a law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by him. In a show of sloppy staff work or lack of seriousness (you choose), individuals on the sanctions list were reportedly lifted by administration staffers from a list published annually by Forbes magazine naming the richest people in the world. Anyone from Russia with over a billion dollars in assets was placed on the Forbes list which was transcribed to the administration’s list — even though some are known to be anti-Putin. Although I suppose it doesn’t really matter because Mr. Trump will not implement the sanctions. Perhaps this is a quid pro quo? Who knows, but there certainly have been a bizarre list of actions and statements by the president regarding President Vladimir Putin and Russia. As someone said, there is a long list of the “whats” that have occurred but there is still no answer as to the “why”.
How serious is this possible breach of national security? Representing the DOJ position, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Mr. Nunes and the committee asking that the information not be released. In the letter he said that to release it would be “extraordinarily reckless” and that the department had reviewed its processes and found no wrongdoing regarding the FISA process.
An official FBI statement concerning the possible release states:
The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to insure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.
With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.
Mr. Nunes and the president also know that there is a Catch-22. Several in fact.
The Democrats wrote a memo telling “the rest of the story” to put Mr. Nunes’ memo in context. He refuses to release it and the Democrats are trying to follow the rules and therefore won’t release it without committee approval. More importantly, the DOJ and FBI cannot refute the memo without themselves using classified information that would do further harm to the nation. By following the rules and taking national security seriously they find themselves in a bind that allows the president and his enablers to get away with their shenanigans.
Further complicating the response is that Congress has, and should have, over sight responsibility for the DOJ and the FBI. They should exercise that responsibility fully. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) contends that that is what is happening. (A further question for another day is why the Speaker did not step in, as he could do, and stop the release of the memo or at least allow a fully vetted process determine its viability. He abdicated his responsibility. I had hopes for Mr. Ryan as a buffer to the worst tendencies of the president, but apparently my hopes were misplaced.)
To fully understand how shady this entire undertaking is, read the unclassified transcript of the committee meeting where the issue was discussed. (You will find it here.) Among other things, it is apparent that Mr. Nunes never read the supporting information from which his memo was crafted. You will also note that Mr. Nunes never denies that the his staff may have worked with White House staffers as to the content of the memo. You will also find that the FBI and the DOJ requested to come in and explain the impact of releasing the memo and the harm it will do to national security but the request was denied. And on and on. One might think that the fix was in. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Nunes would not release the memo for review by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). Why?
Additionally, under normal circumstances, should the FBI concerns be ignored, “grave concerns” not-with-standing, and the administration releases the memo, FBI Director Wray should resign. I hope that he stays and continues to fight for what is right.
The word “unprecedented” gets used a lot these days. This event is truly unprecedented. The House and Senate intelligence committees are historically known for their bipartisanship, concern for the safety of our country, very, very careful in their use and review of sensitive information and generally known as a model for how the government should work. Well, that’s over.
I cannot over emphasize how critical this is to the norms of honest government and the impact on our leading law enforcement agency and the intelligence community as a whole. The politicization of intelligence is a dangerous precedent. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there will be, inevitably in my opinion, other instances of one or both parties (“paybacks are hell”) undertaking similar political use of sensitive information.
One must also think of the willingness of future potential sources of information to put themselves on the line knowing that what they do covertly could be blasted to the public for political reasons. Think also of foreign intelligence agencies and their willingness to work with the United States if they also think that sensitive sources and methods could be compromised. Some reports already indicate that other nations’ intelligence agencies have significantly cut back on the information that they share with us because they are wary of the ability of this administration to keep a secret — as evidenced by the president sharing such intelligence in the Oval Office with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador last year.
Credible reports indicate that the president has been pushing for the release of the memo — even without having read it until last night — since last week. He reportedly thinks that it will “prove” that the “deep state” is out to get him (remember that those opposing its release are his own political appointees). More ominously, it has been reported that he may use this memo as an excuse to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This is significant because Mr. Rosenstein, following the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, oversees Mr. Mueller in the conduct of the Russian investigation. Mr. Rosenstein has repeatedly said that he would never fire the Special Counsel barring egregious and unlawful actions on his part. This infuriates the president. By removing the Deputy AG, Mr. Trump would look for a replacement willing to fire Mr. Mueller or at least inhibit and undermine the investigation. That would be a travesty of justice.
As I’ve said many times over the last year or more, whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump, we should all be livid and concerned that the Russians clearly interfered (as even Mr. Trump’s own appointees to lead the intelligence community concede). And yet, not only will Mr. Trump not say that there was interference, more importantly there is not one federal agency or inter-agency task force looking into it or planning how to counter it for this year’s elections. In a recent interview with the BBC, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the Russians continue to interfere in our internal policy and that he fully expects that they will try to interfere with our next elections and continue to do so as long as they can. And we sit on our hands? Apparently this administration, abetted by Republicans in the House, would rather investigate the FBI and the DOJ rather than the Russians.
The sanctions that this administration is refusing to implement were designed specifically to punish the Russians for interfering in 2016. What they hey?
If Mr. Trump has nothing to worry about (even though two of his aides pleaded guilty and two others are under indictment — hardly a “nothing burger”) then why not let the investigation continue without interference and come to a quick conclusion exonerating him? In my mind it is because he is afraid of what will be found. Each event unto itself could be dismissed, I suppose. But it is compelling when one looks at all the things we already know happened between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I am positive that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what the Special Counsel already knows.
There are many more twists and turns behind this unfolding sordid episode. Because it is happening in slow motion, and involves arcane House and DOJ rules, I suspect many Americans are unaware of the details and even more than that are unaware of the implications behind this unprecedented action. Perhaps Mr. Trump and Mr. Nunes are counting on that. Meanwhile, the DOJ and FBI are under attack as independent protectors of the nation. The rule of law is in danger.
We are on the verge of a Constitutional crisis. It has been creeping up on us for several months. Soon its full-blown existence will make it so that no one can ignore what is happening. Mr. Trump will not do the right thing when the time comes. As he said last week at an impromptu meeting with the press when asked about the investigation, he said he is “fighting back.” One can only imagine what that will bring.
As we approach the end of a tumultuous 2017, let me offer my wish that each of you have a joyous holiday season and that 2018 brings you all the best. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a fine Festivus!
While I sincerely hope that all of us have a wonderful 2018 in our own ways, I am concerned that as a country we will hit turbulent waters at best or worse, experience a Constitutional crisis. I gave up prognosticating some years ago. However, since it is the end of the year, I will offer up my scenario as to how the coming year will unfold as the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller plays out. There are certainly other very important events to come in 2018 that the administration will face, such as dealing with a bellicose North Korea, implementing a tax cut by expanding the deficit, undermining the Affordable Care Act, retooling immigration and someday passing a budget. All of these will be overshadowed by the unfolding drama surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation and its final results. It will not be pretty.
Lest we forget, as I see it there are four distinct areas of investigation for the Special Counsel. Three have been his focus from the beginning and the fourth I surmise got added as the investigation looked into the activities of Mr. Paul Manafort and others and the resulting relationship to the original three areas of interest. The four are concerns over Russian interference in the election, possible collusion between the campaign and the Russians, whether or not the FBI investigation into these matters was obstructed by the president or his advisers, and my fourth, money laundering and/or tax evasion by the president and/or family. Let’s look at them one by one.
Many of us forget that the original intent of the investigation, starting with the FBI and CIA in 2016, was to determine the extent, methods, and impact of Russian interference in that year’s election. The combined intelligence community in the United States and elsewhere concluded some time ago that the Russians did interfere. End of discussion. The questions of how, why, whether it mattered or not and what to do stop it in the future remain unanswered. Reportedly, the president refuses to discuss it with his top advisers, has yet to hold any cabinet level discussions as to how to protect future elections and continues to deny that it ever happened. This is unconscionable. Regardless of one’s political views, all of us should be upset that there is overwhelming evidence that it occurred and there is no evidence that anyone is doing anything substantive to prevent it in the future. There is still no federal coordinated action to stop it from happening again. As Americans we should be appalled. Michael V. Hayden had a lifetime of experience in the intelligence community and was CIA director under President George W. Bush. His view of the Russian meddling? That it is the political equivalent of the attack on September 11. He further said,
“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. He has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”
Perhaps some in Congress will wake up to the fact that action is needed, and soon. I won’t hold my breath for the president to initiate any action. When Mr. Mueller’s findings come forward, we may have an impetus for action by the rest of the government.
The second area of investigation, and the one most focus on including the president, is whether or not the president’s campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in the election and impede Secretary Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory. This one is more complicated and takes more than a sound bite or Twitter statement to unfold. In short, the theory is that in exchange for “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton and other “aids” during the election, the new administration, if they won, would lift sanctions on Russia imposed for a variety of reasons generated by Russian bad actors, and not just during the election. This one is less clear as to the extent that the campaign organization knew what they were doing. Their best defense, if one can call it that, is that they were incompetent. That line of reasoning is becoming less tenable as more and more instances of meetings between campaign representatives and Russian representatives become known. In addition, both campaigns were briefed in August 2016, following the official nominations, that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election, that other bad actors might also try, and the two campaigns need to notify the FBI if they detect any Russian overtures or other activity. The Trump campaign made no such reports to the FBI. It is hard to claim ignorance under those circumstances.
The third area of investigation involves possible obstruction of justice. This stems in one way from the aforementioned meetings with Russian operatives during the campaign. Various campaign officials initially denied any such meetings. It grew bigger after the president fired then FBI Director Jim Comey and bragged in a Lester Holt interview on NBC and later in a private conversation with the Russian (!) Foreign Minister and Ambassador that it was over the “Russia thing.” Director Comey testified under oath that the president asked him to drop the investigation into former NSC Director Michael Flynn’s interactions with the Russians. (The same Michael Flynn that pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those very interactions.) As if that is not enough, the investigation also includes the president himself pushing prevarications on Air Force One concerning his son Donald Trump Jr. and his interactions with the Russians. They made a very weak attempt to cover it up, allegedly at the president’s direct involvement in the cover up story.
You can’t tell the players without a program.
Not on the “official” list but the area that will cause the biggest consternation, and at the same time pull everything together, is my notion that the Special Counsel and his office are looking into the Trump Organization’s and family’s financial dealings. I think that they will find instances of money laundering and tax evasion. Very much like what they come up with concerning Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates — only with Russians rather than corrupt Ukrainians.
Many focus on Mr. Trump’s visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant and his subsequent attempts at creating new business opportunities in Russia. Lost to some is the knowledge that he started visiting Russia in 1987 and has made trips off and on since then. If his son is to be believed, lots of their investment money came from Russian sources. U.S. banks would not underwrite his endeavors after four bankruptcies and he was desperate. Think of it as a “Godfather” scenario. “Donnie, don’t worry. We’ll take care of the problem. Relax. But at some time in the future we may come and ask you for a favor.” Or as Don Corleone says it much better in the original, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”
My opinion as to the results?
- The Russians interfered in many, many ways in the election but the number of votes that changed because of those actions (none of which were by actual vote tampering) is unknown.
- Aides to Mr. Trump did collude with the Russians but the president will benefit from plausible deniability as there will be no way to tie it directly to him.
- The investigation will conclude that Mr. Trump and some of his aides did try to obstruct justice by interfering in the attempt to investigate his family and campaign ties to the Russians.
- The Special Counsel will conclude that prior to becoming president, Mr. Trump knowingly engaged in unethical and illegal financial transactions. These transactions helped Russian oligarchs launder money in Trump investments and real estate purchases. His hundreds of LLCs and shell corporations were used to hide these transactions and to limit the taxes he was by law responsible for paying.
That’s when the “fun” starts.
First, prior to the Special Counsel’s findings, the House committees investigating these matters will rush out findings — possibly in early January — that will find that there is no evidence of collusion, they did not look at obstruction of justice because it is a criminal matter, and did not investigate his finances. They will say that the Russians interfered in the election but it is unclear to what extent and in any case, the interference did not change the election.
The president will seize on this report, claim that it proves his innocence and that there was “no collusion!”
The president will try to fire Special Counsel Mueller because, he will reason, the House committees already proved that there was “no collusion!” and so there is no need for the investigation to continue. To do so would make it a “witch hunt” based on the Democrats efforts to push a “hoax” and an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Trump voters because of a deep hatred of Mr. Trump. Fox News and some House Republicans will cry long and loud that this is an attempted FBI “coup” to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States. (By the way, this has already happened in the last 48 hours. The attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice from certain Republican Members of Congress are despicable. Please note that they are not attacking the facts, the results so far or any other substantive issue. They only attack the people and the institution with the goal to sow doubt in advance of just this scenario.)
The Senate will try to protect the Special Counsel but at the same time expand their investigation to include the other nominees — Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton — to show that it wasn’t just Mr. Trump. When the Special Counsel’s findings start to leak out, the Senate, caught in a bind as to how to act as the president continues to undermine, ignore and invalidate the non-partisan results, delays action.
The Special Counsel will name Mr. Trump as an un-indicted co-conspirator.
Mr. Trump will not step down from the presidency and tries to pardon those indicted as well as himself. This will lead to a Constitutional crisis.
The “#metoo” movement continues to build pressure against Mr. Trump as more allegations of harassment by multiple women come out and he calls them all “liars.”
To make sure that justice prevails, state prosecutors step in to bring state charges — especially on money and tax issues. Mr. Trump cannot pardon violations of state law, only federal.
The issue of pardons for whom and for what gets challenged in court and follows an expedited path to the Supreme Court.
Pressure will build for the Congress to act. However, the House and Senate will not act to impeach the president and will cite the upcoming 2018 elections as the reason. “Let the American people decide.”
Democrats win big in the elections. While campaigning they will not use the word “impeach” but will insist that Mr. Trump needs to be held accountable for his actions with Congressional oversight.
Mr. Trump, Fox News, and some House Republicans continue to cry that the system was rigged and that an attempted “coup” is underway. Mr. Trump embarks on a series of campaign rallies to build support among the minority of voters that still support him. Angry demonstrations ensue.
Most Americans are appalled at the complete story and the fact that Mr. Trump will not step down plus the fact that he is trying to pardon the wrong doers — especially close family members. The Democratic landslide is a result of voters being fed up because Congress will not act.
Very bitter disputes break out in violence on both sides of the issue as Mr. Trump continues purposely to stir up animosity and anger.
There is very little energy left to try to tackle the big issues facing our nation. American influence in the world continues to wane and other nations take advantage of our inward rage and lack of attention to international affairs. The Russians continue to meddle in western European elections and to support Syria and Iran. China consolidates its economic power and pulls other Asian nations closer to its orbit as they become the de facto leader of the region under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
2018 ends without resolution of the Constitutional issues surrounding Mr. Trump and his associates’ actions. Trials begin for Mr. Manafort, Mr. Gates, and Mr. Kushner and others close to the president.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
A single failed 2001 shoe bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit.
— We all now take our shoes off before boarding any airliner.
A single failed 2009 underwear bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit.
— We all now have to go through full body scanners before boarding any airliner.
A plot to turn a lap top into a bomb was foiled.
— Laptops were banned on many airline flights.
A legal immigrant kills 8 and injures 12 in New York City.
— Close the borders to immigrants. “Extreme vetting.”
A single terrorist shooter kills 59 and wounds 241 people in Las Vegas.
A single terrorist shooter kills 26 and wounds 20 in Sutherland Springs Texas.
— “It’s not a gun situation.”
378 mass shooting incidents (defined as four or more people shot) in 2017 alone.
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
In February 2017 the president signed a decree scrapping the regulation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of severely mentally ill individuals.
Gun homicide rates in the U.S. are 25 times higher than any other high income nation.
Guns kill approximately 1300 children in the U.S. each year.
The Congress refused to pass legislation preventing individuals on the terrorist no fly list from buying guns.
It is not anti-gun to be for gun safety. As the greatest nation on earth we should be able to figure out how to keep our Second Amendment right without giving up our right not to be randomly shot by a disgruntled idiot. It is a national disgrace. It most definitely is not “the cost of freedom.”
I don’t want to hear anymore “thoughtsandprayers.”
In the last ten to twelve days we have seen a remarkable display of something — although I am not really sure what we are seeing. But from where I sit, it isn’t good.
In succession we have Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) (a former nominee for president), former Republican President George W. Bush, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) all directly or unmistakably reference, the leadership philosophy, character and fitness for office of our current president. All found him seriously wanting in every imaginable category. On top of that, former Democrat President Barack Obama and former Democrat Vice President Joe Biden made similar remarks. But of course their remarks don’t count because of the fact that the Democrats are all “losers” and “whiners.” So let’s just focus on the president’s own party and their criticism.
Some Republicans and some reporters and analysts use words like “feud” and “tit for tat” and “Junior High disputes” to describe the events of the last week. Wrong. Likewise is it wrong to think that their words have no real meaning because, in at least two cases, they have chosen not to run for re-election. Perhaps it gave them more leeway to speak up, but it does not change the import of their words.
To brush it off as some kind of personality clash is to lose sight of what serious men of conscience are actually saying. It is also not really a matter of policy or ideological differences either. For goodness sake, Senators Corker and Flake vote with about a 96% consistency rate with the stated goals of the rest of their party and presumably of the president. (Although it is difficult to know about the latter as his grasp of policy details is suspect and he can change his mind about an issue several times in the same day. For example, with the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill for a temporary fix of the health care system, where he was for it before he was against it — in the same afternoon.)
These proven Republicans, all of whom I respect even if I don’t agree with their every approach to solving the nation’s problems, make a compelling case that the president is manifestly unfit for office and that his tumbling tumbleweed approach to governing diminishes our place in the world and is dangerous. It is a question of character and the current president is found to be profoundly lacking, if not completely devoid, of it. More precisely Senator McCain said, among other things:
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems, is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the phrase “blood and soil” is the phrase used by American white supremacists, is associated with some supporters of this administration, and comes from a philosophy from Nazi Germany. “Blut und Boden.” Look it up.
Likewise Senator Flake characterizes the president’s character as a danger to our nation and to peace in the world. The speech is worth reading as many think that in historical terms, we will look back upon it as a clarion call to action to stop the reckless behavior of the current administration. He warns of creating a “new normal” where the most crass and personal petty attacks and lies are taken as the course of events in politics. His condemnation of the current administration is lengthy, but the heart of the matter can be summed up in these passages:
If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.
And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?
Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.
This is not a “tit for tat” or a personality conflict. These comments, and similar ones by President Bush and even more blunt comments by Senator Corker are alarming. Or they should be.
Politics in the United States has changed in the past year or so from differences in ideas to one where we argue over the populist slogans of the sloganeer-in-chief. I heard it described the other day as “emotional sustenance.” Substance from the chief executive is no longer required, all that is asked of him is that he entertain us. Sadly, that entertainment is not even positive but geared to salve the emotional feelings surrounding perceived slights of those that just want to be mad at the establishment and he indulges them. Substance may not be dead in the Congress, but it is on life support because the man at the top cares nothing about it. Watch the interview from last weekend with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business News and the president. She served up the most soft ball type questions imaginable and tried to lead him through his own policies, but with little success. Asked about Russia he talked about Bob Kraft (owner of the NFL New England Patriots) and the Super Bowl ring he gave (?) to Vladimir Putin. Having already mentioned the Alexander-Murray bipartisan health care bill, here was his description of it:
Well, I’ve — I have looked at it very, very strongly. And pretty much, we can do almost what they’re getting. I — I think he is a tremendous person. I don’t know Sen. Murray. I hear very, very good things.
I know that Lamar Alexander’s a fine man, and he is really in there to do good for the people. We can do pretty much what we have to do without, you know, the secretary has tremendous leeway in the — under the Obama plans. One of the things that they did, because they were so messed up, they had no choice but to give the secretary leeway because they knew he’d have to be — he or she would have to be changing all the time.
And we can pretty much do whatever we have to do just the way it is. So this was going to be temporary, prior to repeal and replace. We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare.
A grasp of the issue? You be the judge.
Here is what we now have in the United States of America. We have a chief executive who created a cult of personality, and continues to expand that cult, with no grasp of the issues, no desire to learn the issues and who thinks that bullying (“Liddle’ Bob Corker”, “Little Rocket Man”, Jeff “The Flake” Flake, and countless others) is the way to govern and accomplish something meaningful.
And it gets worse.
As late as yesterday, the Commander-in-Chief continued to argue with a Gold Star widow. Not Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla) who is a close family friend (you may know her better as the president does as “Wacky Congressman (sic) Wilson “). The widow.
Most disappointing was the press conference given by Chief-of-Staff John Kelly last week. After giving a heart wrenching, and something the country as a whole needed to understand, explanation as to how our fallen military members are returned home to grieving families, he went too far. He too attacked Congresswoman Wilson with what was proven to be false accusations. And he went on to show that in this White House, he is really just an admin guy and mouthpiece for the president. Clearly, he does the president’s bidding without question and thereby refutes the idea that he is any kind of filter or brake for the president’s divisive views.
Many people, including military veterans, I’ve spoken with are profoundly disappointed in the president and John Kelly. Many consider this the low point for this administration.
Sadly, I think that demonstrates a lack of imagination. I don’t think we have yet realized just how low the president and many of his advisers are willing to go. How many times in the last two years have people said “that’s it” — surely it cannot get any worse. And then it does.
I think that is why Senators McCain, Corker, and Flake spoke out in recent days. That is why Presidents Bush and Obama spoke out in recent days. They realize the serious threat to our republic embodied by this administration and they cannot sit by and watch it be destroyed.
Unfortunately, too many others in Congress are willing to trade their souls for a tax cut.
All of us have a role to play. We cannot sit idly by and watch our country careen towards ruin.
The past six weeks or so have been tough on a lot of people from natural and man-made disasters. Multiple hurricanes, an earthquake, unprecedented wildfires, and a mass shooting all come to mind, to name a few of the major events since the summer. Tough going for a lot of people who will take months or years to fully recover. The loss of life is significant and the loss of property not only impacts people’s lives but also our national treasure. We as a nation need to stick with the recovery efforts even as the president seemed to imply yesterday that the “ungrateful” Puerto Ricans — American citizens all — are themselves largely responsible for their condition and should not count on continued federal assistance to recover.
Amidst all of the heartache and sadness, there have been incredible scenes and stories of every day people stepping up to do incredible things. The stories of human beings helping human beings are inspiring. These people stepped up not for the glory or reward but because it was the right thing to do. Many had lost their own homes or loved ones and yet they sallied forth over and over to help or rescue others even as their own lives were in danger. Truly inspiring and a refreshing reminder that at heart we are all the same and that the vast majority of people will come through for their fellow citizens when their backs are up against the wall.
What was truly refreshing about these countless stories is that they took place against the backdrop of the continuing circus unfolding in and around the White House. The Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration still values daily fights with the media and attacking anyone that looks at them cross-eyed. One is either a pandering sycophant or an “enemy of the state” according to this administration. The list of daily insults to our citizens and our nation is far too long to take on one by one and the pettiness and vindictiveness of this administration is ever more shameful when compared to the many uplifting actions taken in the wake of actual disasters, not the one’s unnecessarily created by the president. The president continues to tumble around in the wind of his perceived need to satisfy a “base” of about 30-40% of our nation rather than to provide a vision of how to lead the entire nation to address the serious issues facing this country.
Of grave concern to me is that the leaders of the Republican Party will not stand up on their hind legs and tell the president that he is just plain wrong about many issues. This is deeply concerning. Apparently the hope — and so far they have demonstrated that it is only a hope — of passing their “agenda” over rides their Constitutional duty as an equal branch of government to stand up to the president when he is wrong and/or out-of-bounds.
Thankfully there are a few canaries in the coal mine (how ironic since the administration is “stopping the war on coal”) who are willing to publicly voice their concerns. The common knowledge around Washington is that nearly every Senator and Representative is privately concerned over the president’s personal behavior and the potential damage to our country. Yet, only a few are willing to speak up.
Unfortunately, it needs to be Republicans that speak up as when Democrats do they are accused of partisanship or “playing politics” with important issues. (One might ask if it isn’t their political job to raise questions about issues as they occur.) This week two Republican Senators did speak up. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) did so. Both were immediately personally attacked and belittled by the president.
In an interview with the New York Times Senator Corker said, among other things, that the president “concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” He went on to liken this administration to “a reality show” and as has been widely reported, the president is leading the country “on the path to World War III.” Anyone that follows such things knows that Senator Corker is a well-respected, conscientious individual that takes his duties seriously. While I do not agree with all of his ideas, he is well-versed in foreign affairs and national security and an acknowledged expert. If he is willing to speak out against a president of his own party, I see his words as a warning to the rest of us. We should be paying close attention.
Think of it this way. Yesterday in a press opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the president was asked about any differences he might have with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over North Korea. In the context of his, shall we say, mercurial temperament, his words were troubling. He opined that he might “have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have.” He acknowledged that he listens to his advisers but that “ultimately my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it? That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is. I think perhaps I feel stronger and tougher on that subject than other people, but I listen to everybody.”
This from the man who threatened to “totally destroy” the North Koreans and belittled his own Secretary of State for trying to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.
Senator Sasse spoke up yesterday following a statement and a series of tweets from the president (I still can not believe that we conduct national affairs via Twitter) where he seemed to state that he would abridge the First Amendment rights of NBC news for broadcasting “fake news.” One sample:
“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
For the moment, let’s look past the fact that NBC is not licensed by the federal government, individual local stations are, and that the president cannot take away their license. Just another case of the president being factually challenged, or not having the intellectual curiosity to actually know what he is talking about. But nothing new there.
Instead, let’s take it for what it is. The first, classic step of an authoritarian regime. Belittle institutions, question their integrity, claim that they are illegitimate, and then shut them down. History 101. Am I over reacting? I used to think that there was a lot of hyperbole around the doings of this president and that the basic nature of our Constitution and the safeguards there in would keep him in check. Now I am not so sure (and more on that later). In addition to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that certain norms and standards of behavior would naturally be part of the unwritten rules governing those in power. I would opine that assumption is now being challenged in terms of the moral and ethical behavior of the man in the White House.
We need more Senators, and other, yes Republican, politicians to speak out as Senator Sasse did yesterday when he asked the president (and of course, via Twitter):
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”
It is not normal for a president of these United States to call for the shutting down of a news outlet because he is mad about their reporting. Upset about it, sure. Most presidents get upset about some news report about some issue. But every day — well maybe not every day, but about 98% of the days — this president comes out with some new crazy thing that he says or does. Again, Senator Corker was a truth teller when he said, “I don’t know why the President tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.” This is not the America we know and love.
Here is where I almost fell over yesterday as analysts were discussing the state of affairs in the world vis-a-vis those in the White House. By all accounts the president feels that he is not in control and expects the rest of the government to respond to his commands and desires as they did when he was in his gilded tower in New York City. He is frustrated and ready to lash out. Guess where the one power lies that no one else can countermand or dispute? His role as Commander-in-Chief. The hyperbole surrounding who has their “finger on the button” to launch our nuclear arsenal now sounds more real. Throughout his campaign and now in his presidency he talks of our arsenal and its strength. Unfortunately, he talks about it in ways that make me think that he does not understand what he is talking about (see my 21 September post on “Deterrence 101”). Couple that with his comments about North Korea above (“my attitude is the one that matters”) and one could start to lose sleep at night.
To paraphrase Stan Oliver, “Well here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.” I have no magic solution. We need to hope that more officials in government step up and hold this president accountable. Stop the Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration from blowing aimlessly across the national landscape. Hold Congressional hearings to force the administration to articulate its policies and explain the strategy to implement them. Call out the president when he makes untrue and outrageous statements. Things have not gotten better with time and we now know that there will be no “pivot” and no learning curve. He is who he is and we know it. It won’t change. If only he had the empathy, understanding and feeling for his fellow citizens that those suffering in the disasters have demonstrated. But he does not. It is time to hold the Apprentice-in-Chief accountable for all of his actions.
With increasing frequency, nearly daily, we as a nation wake up to yet another incredible self-created crisis in the Trump Administration. People that care that our nation’s leader is becoming something of a punch line around the world debate whether President Trump’s actions, statements, and yes, tweets are part of a larger plan or simply the reflection of a man with little to no intellectual curiosity, the attention span of a young child, and who is in way over his head. I am increasingly falling into the latter category.
In my day the military term for his administration would be that it is a soup sandwich. The term means exactly what the imagery suggests, something so confused and messy that it cannot be salvaged.
The litany of recent events are well-known. Whether it is his casual revelations to the Russians of highly critical intelligence, his thinly veiled threats to former FBI Director Comey, his stated reason for firing Mr. Comey because of the “Russian thing”, or the possibility that he tried to stop the FBI investigation of the Russian meddling and specifically Lt General Michael Flynn’s possible involvement with the Russians, his actions have shown a president and an administration that have lost their way. Put more bluntly, look in the dictionary for “soup sandwich” and you will see a picture of the president.
Note again that all of the crises that the White House staff have dealt with thus far are all self-created by the president. This does not bode well for handling the inevitable national security crisis or domestic tragedy on the horizon that will test our ability as a nation to deal with all that comes our way.
Most legal scholars and Constitutional law experts point out that nothing that we know about thus far concerning the president’s actions is illegal. Unethical and/or immoral, perhaps, but not illegal. This is very troubling. As Dana Milbank ably points out in a recent opinion piece, just because it is legal, does not mean that it is right. Or as we used to say, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. The basic point is that President Trump knows no boundaries, has no self-control and therefore has the ability to do great damage to our nation, whether deliberate or out of ignorance. As Mr. Milbank points out in his troubling piece, the president is within his rights — legally — to do all of the things that we know about. But the assumption for all modern presidents is that a president would not do all of those things without the proper justifications and explanations. In crafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that the chief executive would be virtuous , guided by honor, and exhibit self-restraint. Scholars point out that the Constitution gives many powers to the president, specifically and inherently. The checks and balances that we rely upon cannot stop the president from wreaking havoc in the short-term. Although the ultimate power rests with the Congress — impeachment — and the courts — ruling certain presidential actions unconstitutional — it takes time and political capital to bring those counter balancing powers to bear. In the meantime, significant and even irreparable damage can be done to our nation. With President Trump we have a chief executive that seems to be lacking the knowledge to understand the limits and responsibilities of the presidency combined with unchecked impulsivity that can easily lead to damaging actions and decisions.
Look at President Trump’s background. His success as a businessman by most accounts was not so much because of his personal knowledge and ability. It was more about branding. He sold the Trump Brand to investors and let others actually build the real property. Recently, few of his Trump buildings were actually Trump projects, he merely sold his name and promotional abilities for use by those doing the work. He became famous due to his time as a television reality star. Even today he talks about “ratings” for press conferences and speeches. The pop psychoanalysis could go on and on, but in every instance, it appears that his personality is ill-suited to lead the greatest nation on earth. To me, for example, he related the very highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister (information that will probably result in lives lost, and certainly the loss of an important avenue of intelligence) not because he wanted to help the Russians. I think he did it because he was showing off and wanted to impress his visitors. Remember this is the guy that in the midst of the ceremony “celebrating” the House passing Trumpcare, stopped his speech to turn around and ask “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? Hey, I’m president. I’m president. Can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it. But it is true.
I hear the “I word” — impeachment — bandied about a lot recently. From what we know now, we are not there yet. I also worry that under the current divisive political atmosphere in our country that an impeachment act and subsequent trial would be very bad for our nation. We might not recover from that trauma for many years. Therefore any impeachment proceedings must be based on clear violations of the law, should there be any.
The other proposal that floats around from time to time is that the 25th Amendment can be used to remove him from office. This amendment pertains to the succession to the presidency should the president be unable to fulfill his duties. The relevant section of the amendment in this case is Section Four which provides a procedure for the Vice President and such other “principal officers of the executive departments” (meaning the Cabinet) to declare the president unfit for duty. Should the president contest that declaration, it goes to a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. This too would be a long drawn out procedure that could seriously divide our country should the president resist the take-over attempt. It seems unlikely in any event that Vice-president Pence and the Trump appointed Cabinet would invoke this avenue of removal, barring some obvious and unassailable problem with the president.
Finally, President Trump could resign. Many pundits and others think this is the most likely scenario for the current president to leave office. President Trump himself said that
“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I like to work, so that’s not a problem, but this is actually more work and while I had very little privacy in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time, I really, this is – this is much less privacy than I’ve ever seen before.”
None-the-less, I doubt very much that the president has any intention of resigning. He likes the attention and being on the “inside” — people have to pay attention to him and he likes that.
Potentially compounding President Trump’s negative impact on the nation is the dilemma many of his top advisers are facing. It is a classic scenario. The president continually throws good, hard-working and upright people under the bus. They go out and defend his actions in, I hope, good faith only to have him personally provide a completely different rationale for his actions. This can only go on for so long before people start to ponder resigning. This is the dilemma such good people face — resign and save my reputation and integrity or stay and try to change things because they could really be a lot worse if no one of significant knowledge and competence is left to try to hold him in check?
I fear that most people consider the recent events as “typical” Washington politics. That’s too bad. This is not typical and it is not normal. And it isn’t “sour grapes” that the Democrats lost the presidency.
Many continue to state that as a nation we should give the guy a chance. He’s only been in office about four months. Give him time. I tried. Sorry, but I do not think that anything is going to cause President Trump to change.
For the Republican majority on Capital Hill I can only say, “Clean up on aisle seven. Soup sandwich in progress.” The Republican agenda depends on a functioning presidency. The deal with the devil is almost gone as more and more of the president’s actions take away from the legislature’s ability to legislate. Clean up the soup sandwich through comprehensive and bipartisan investigations. Find out what actually happened, or did not happen, and get it into the public domain. Use a little Clorox on the clean up of the soup sandwich.
If it turns out there is nothing there involving the Russians or other problems then so much the better. If there is something, hold all involved accountable. The good news/bad news may be that there is nothing there. The good news is that people will not go to jail and the integrity of the system may be restored. The bad news is that we will still be left with a soup sandwich.