The Trump Fantastic (#trumpstyle)

#trippingthetrumpfantastic | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Central Intelligence Agency, 21 January 2016, in Langley, Virginia. (Photo: Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images)

“Usually, even the laziest of partisans aren’t quite so ridiculous when dealing with the legislative branch’s oversight role over the executive branch.”

Steve Benen

Something goes here about striking decay. And something unfortunate about how that sounds about right. No, really: In what universe?

Steve Benen, about two and a half weeks ago:

On Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans have refused to even consider a select committee to uncover the facts, but the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating, and its House counterpart is doing the same. A Senate Judiciary Committee panel is also digging in, with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) moving forward with a probe of their own.

And a few days later:

The fact that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has been forced to resign only helps shine a light on the seriousness of this dramatic controversy, making it that much more difficult for even the laziest and most partisan White House allies on Capitol Hill to look the other way.

But they may very well try anyway. The Hill had this report yesterday afternoon.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) says he expects embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn to keep his job amid controversy over his talks with the Russian ambassador.

“It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there,” Nunes told Bloomberg News on Monday.

Note, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes—who served proudly as a member of Donald Trump’s transition team—has access to the nation’s most sensitive intelligence. The California Republican is in a position to know, for example, that Flynn apparently lied about his communications with a foreign adversary, which launched an illegal espionage operation to help put Trump in the White House.

But Nunes, as of yesterday afternoon, apparently found all of this rather dull. The GOP congressman went so far as to say, “I have great confidence in Michael Flynn.”

Nunes even lauded Flynn in writing after Trump’s NSA was forced by the weight of his scandal to quit.

Can you feel the love? Some more from Valentine’s Day:

And what about House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.), a Trump cheerleader who late yesterday dismissed the allegations against Flynn as unimportant and expressed his enthusiastic confidence in the NSA? The Washington Post published this piece this morning:

So far, Nunes is shunning the idea of investigating the Flynn situation, citing something he mentioned Monday—conversations between Flynn and the president, which Nunes asserted are protected by executive privilege.

Instead of demanding answers on the Trump White House’s Russia scandal and Flynn’s role, the California congressman said he’s going to demand answers about the leaks from the Justice Department that have shed so much light on the controversy.

Maybe this time last week, just because?

On Friday afternoon, FBI Director James Comey delivered a classified, hour-long briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Russia scandal, and soon after, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent “formal requests to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to the committee’s investigation” into the controversy.

We don’t know much about how the briefing went—committee members were tight-lipped following Comey’s presentation—though Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted late Friday that he’s “now very confident” that the committee will conduct “thorough bipartisan investigation” into Russia’s “interference and influence.”

Reading between the lines, this makes it sound as if the Republican-led panel is trying to knock down the idea that a special select committee is necessary to investigate the scandal without political interference.

Oh, look, it’s Rachel. Everybody say, “Hi, Rachel!”α:

The “Washington Post” broke this news, that in addition to lobbying the FBI directly about the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia, the White House also successfully enlisted the Republican chairman of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. These guys were supposed to be leading impartial hard-nosed investigations into this matter.

The White House successfully enlisted Congressman Devin Nunes and Senator Richard Burr, the heads of the intelligence committees, the White House got them to call reporters and tell reporters that there’s really nothing to see here in the scandal, that the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, there’s nothing there.

The White House apparently asked these committee chairmen to call reporters and say that and these committee chairmen did it. What?

Quote, “The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia. Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week. The calls were orchestrated by the White House. The effort involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.”

Devin Nunes confirmed tonight he had spoken to at least one reporter on this matter, quote, “at the request of the White House communications aide.” Senator Burr also acknowledged that he had conversations about Russia-related news reports with the White House and then engaged with news organizations.

So, right. That was Friday. Which brings us back to Steve, today:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a top Donald Trump ally, did his best yesterday to defend the White House urging FBI officials to downplay the Russia scandal. The Republican governor’s defense isn’t that the White House is innocent, but rather, that Team Trump doesn’t know what it’s doing ....

.... Factually, Christie’s point has merit—we have an amateur president who’s surrounded himself with people who have no governing experience—but it’s still not much of a defense. By his reasoning, it didn’t occur to the president’s chief of staff it might be problematic for the White House to intervene in a pending federal investigation. It’s one of those things the person running the White House needs to know, not “learn.”

Of course, Christie’s defense of Priebus’ outreach to the FBI acknowledges the underlying detail that matters: Priebus reached out to the FBI. The allegation that shook the political world on Thursday night and Friday morning, we now know, is true.

This is probably important: It would behoove us to attend the frequency with which the administration’s response is to simply confirm the question at hand and pretend to brush it aside.

It also seems worth noting that Reince Priebus is one of the people who ought to at least have some clue how the presidency works; Donald Trump might be an amateur, but the White House Chief of Staff has been the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. One might think in all the time the GOP spent bawling about their invented pretenses of corruption in the Obama White House, they might have learned a thing or three about what actually goes on in the executive branch.

But these are Republicans, and this is #WhatTheyVotedForβ.

In any case, this really is some manner of genuine spectacle. Friday’s reports about Congressional Republicans brought a rough weekend, for certain; Leigh Ann Caldwell and Ali Vitali reported today on the GOP’s response:

The White House and Nunes on Monday acknowledged the congressman spoke to a reporter about the Russia matter. In an interview with the Washington Post, Burr told the paper he “had conversations about” media reports on the Russia controversy and spoke with news outlets to rebut reporting about the topic from the New York Times and CNN ....

.... Nunes told reporters Monday he has not been given evidence that Trump’s presidential campaign staffers had contact with Russians. His confidence comes despite his acknowledgement that his committee is in the early stages of its investigation and have yet to begin collecting information.

The casual manner in which Sen. Burr and Rep. Nunes acknowledge their participation is fascinating; it’s not quite to the point that we should wonder if maybe Nixon should have said, “Yeah, I’m a crook and all, but …”. Then again, as Benen put it this morning:

Of particular interest, the White House’s public-relations campaign included Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), both of whom confirmed that they spoke to journalists about the Russia scandal at the White House’s request.

And that’s extraordinary. While Burr and Nunes were supposed to be overseeing investigations into the Russia scandal, they were also cooperating with the White House, telling reporters not to take the Russia scandal seriously.

In other words, the investigators were undermining their own investigation—at the behest of those being investigated.

There’s no shortage of questions about the developments, but there’s an obvious one near the top of the list: what happens now?

This is an important question. While the president’s speech to Congress is not a State of the Union address, it will, most likely, tell us a great deal about the state of the Union.

____________________

α See also: [transcript link]

β While President Trump’s job approval rating stands at a dismal forty-four percent, the partisan split is about as shocking as shocking does; that is to say, Democrats loathe Mr. Trump by an eight-four to nine margin, while Republicans approve of his performance, eighty-five to eight. And this is one of those points about which it is fair to wonder whether mentioning the problem invokes it. To wit, one might easily recall, when reading such numbers, their more conservative associates attempting to salvage some shred of idealism within the identity politic—and leftists really ought to have a heart about this one—by disqualifying the president as some manner of RINO; the question might not occur to one who has not encountered it; the conservative can seize on a pretense of bawling about generalization if one is not careful. Still, eighty-five percent among Republicans is a striking approval rate compared to complaints of RINO Trump. Indeed, the NBC News/WSJ poll does not seem to account, in its 52/43 split on growing pains (Q14) for partisan leaning. The result appears sufficient to contain the “growing pains” vote almost entirely within the Republican return, though easily within the overall approval. At the end of the day, whatever a voter’s reason or excuse―such as circumstance definse―for supporting President Trump, it would seem the gobsmacking show of shows is, to some degree, exactly #WhatTheyVotedFor.

Image note: Photo by Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images.

Benen, Steve. “GOP claims Russia scandal has ‘taken care of itself'”. msnbc. 14 February 2017.

—————. “How far will Republicans go to ignore Trump’s Russia scandal?” msnbc. 14 February 2017.

—————. “Priebus’ improper contacts with the FBI come into focus”. msnbc. 27 February 2017.

—————. “Trump’s Russia scandal takes an unexpected turn”. msnbc. 20 February 2017.

—————. “What happened to Donald Trump’s Russia scandal?”. msnbc. 10 February 2017.

—————. “White House makes matters worse by trying to suppress Russia scandal”. 27 February 2017.

Blake, Aaron. “The Republican in charge of investigating Michael Flynn has taken an extraordinarily pro-Flynn stance”. The Washington Post. 14 February 2017.

Caldwell, Leigh Ann and Ali Vitali. “White House, GOP Intel Committee Heads Push Back on Russia Reports”. NBC News. 27 February 2017.

Cribb, Esme. “Chris Christie Says White House Contact With FBI Was Result Of ‘Learning Curve'”. Talking Points Memo. 26 February 2017.

Dann, Carrie. “Trump’s Job Approval Stands at Just 44 Percent as Partisan Splits Reign”. NBC News. 26 February 2017.

Diaz, Daniella. “Why Trump’s Tuesday speech isn’t a State of the Union address”. CNN. 27 February 2017.

Hensch, Mark. “House intel chairman on Flynn reports: ‘Nothing there'”. The Hill. 13 February 2017.

Hunt, Kasie. “Chasing down Senate Intelligence Committee leaders in the Senate subway”. Twitter. 17 February 2017.

Lesniewski, Niels. “Senators Silent After Meeting With FBI Director Comey”. Roll Call. 17 February 2017.

MacNeal, Caitlin. “House Intel Chair On Flynn: DC Is ‘Rough Town For Honorable People'”. Talking Points Memo. 14 February 2017.

Maddow, Rachel. “GOP intel chairs push media on Russia story at Trump behest: WaPo”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 24 February 2017.

Miller, Greg and Adam Entous. “Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories”. The Washington Post. 24 February 2017.

Riechmann, Deb and Eileen Sullivan. “Aide: Senators Want Materials Saved For Probe Into Russian Election Interference”. Talking Points Memo. 19 February 2017.

Rubio, Marco. “I am now very confident Senate Intel Comm I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of #Putin interference and influence”. Twitter. 17 February 2017.

Schofield, Matthew. “Doubts hit congressional probes of Russia election meddling”. McClatchy DC. 25 February 2017.

Weisman, Jonathan, Emmarie Huetteman, and Matt Flegenheimer. “Trump Responds to Louvre Attack in Paris, Urging U.S. to ‘Get Smart'”. The New York Times. 3 February 2017.

Wright, Austin. “Second Hill panel to probe possible ties between Russia, Trump campaign”. Politico. 25 January 2017.

Wright, Austin and Martin Matishak. “Senators set to huddle on Russia hacking probe”. Politico. 2 February 2017.

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