foreign policy

Sixty Million Dollars, and Probably Still Counting

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016; the Donald Trump campaign aide would eventually become campaign manager. (Detail of image from NBC News)

The headline from NBC News, that “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”, might actually be understated:

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.

(Petropoulos and Engel)

The important point, then, might well be the sum of known dealings. In other words, the headline could soon need updating to a larger number. Then again, that would be kind of like the problem with trying to follow the sad, epic ballad of Paul Manafort, which, in turn, is much like trying to keep up with the spectacular disaster that is the Donald Trump Experience; things go downhill so quickly that if you stop to make the point it is already obsolete.

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Image note: Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016. (Detail of image from NBC News)

Petropoulos, Aggelos and Richard Engel. “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”. NBC News. 13 October 2017.

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Unhinged (Failure)

#failure | #WhatTheyVotedFor

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reacts to a speech by President Donald Trump at the United Nations in New York, 19 September 2017. (Photos via Associated Press)

“Today, our president made his first speech before the UN General Assembly; he called Kim Jong Un, ‘Rocket Man’. He threatened to, quote, ‘totally destroy’, North Korea, and he said big portions of the world are, in his words, ‘going to hell’. He also bragged about his election victory, and the stock market. The president’s chief of staff did not appear to enjoy it, and just in case you thought that was just one bad picture, here’s another one.”

Rachel Maddow

Also of note is a particular question of implications, if the Trump administration is “failing to create diplomatic capacity, or is this them destroying American diplomatic capacity, on purpose, for some other reason”. And while Andrea Mitchell responds by reaffirming the mystery of the question, neither is a reporter of her station supposed to come right out and say it: “I don’t know the reason,” she replied, “other than Rex Tillerson did come in with a mandate to cut fat, and there is fat and bloat anywhere, but this is a rounding error”. The translation, of course, being that this is not how one trims fat or cures bloat. Meanwhile, for news consumers, the point might well have something to do with unfortunate tacitry giving way to the seemingly obvious, such that the question finds explicit voice among the talking hosts and heads we consume.

This is just one of those things that would seem significant of something, somewhere, in some context that really ought to be relevant to us. The hardest question to figure in virtually any context, though, is why the Trump administration would deliberately assail American prestige. And while the #trumpswindle will as the #trumpswindle does, it should seem absurd to wonder if this is really #WhatTheyVotedFor.

Then again, it should have seemed absurd to wonder about the white nationalism, too, and look what that got us.

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Image note:White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reacts to a speech by President Donald Trump at the United Nations in New York, 19 September 2017. (Photos via Associated Press)

Maddow, Rachel. “Trump joins history’s list of unhinged speakers at UN”. The Rachel Maddow Show. msnbc. 19 September 2017.

Not Exactly Clairvoyance (Monday Mission Mix)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image.

This is a superstition:

U.S.-backed militias in Syria said they came under attack on Saturday from Russian jets and Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor province, a flashpoint in an increasingly complex battlefield.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting with the U.S.-led coalition, said six of its fighters were wounded in the strike.

The Pentagon said Russia bombed a position east of the Euphrates river where it knew SDF fighters and coalition advisers were stationed. The jets did not injure coalition forces, it said.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow or Damascus.

(Francis)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)Okay, so, the way it works is that in recent times the press really has called out the White House over weekend events, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders might well be an entertaining spectacle trying to dodge questions about whether or not President Trump is capable of criticizing the Russian government or strongman Vladimir Putin. And the superstition is that, having mentioned it, this will turn out to be an occasion when the Press Corps will take a pass.

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Image notes: Top ― Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image. Right ― Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Francis, Ellen. “Jets strike U.S.-backed forces in eastern Syria”. Reuters. 16 September 2017.

The Blind Chaos of Futility

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the travel pool aboard Air Force One during a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, while flying over South Carolina, 3 February 2017. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Somewhere between the joke about how conservatives in general cannot tell the difference, particular observations about the breathtaking naïveté we are supposed to believe about the Trump administration—

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Thursday dodged questions about the existence of possible recordings of conversations between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey.

Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, 4 March 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)“I can’t comment on that,” Conway said on Fox News before moving to discuss other portions of Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier in the day.

Pressed twice more about the existence of possible tapes, Conway responded, “I can’t comment on that and actually the president himself has said he won’t comment any further on that.”

(Byrnes)

—we might find echoes of Sen. Martin Heinrich’s (D-NM) point to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats when the latter decided he simply did not feel like answering: “You realize how simple it would be to simply say no, that never happened?”

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The Beltway Sketch (Civics: General and Particular)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump speaks about trade in the Oval Office of the White House, 31 March 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

What additional commentary could possibly go here? You will, eventually, encounter a conservative complaining about Democratic obstructionism, and these are some points worth keeping in mind:

1. Democrats are in the minority, and don’t control the Senate calendar.

2. Filibusters on executive-branch nominees have been eliminated. Senate Dems can slow the process down a bit when they want to, delaying votes by a couple of weeks in some instances, but they don’t have the power to block any of Trump’s nominees on their own. It’s simply not possible as a procedural matter.

3. In order for nominees to be confirmed, they have to be sent. Of the 559 key positions in the administration requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has not yet nominated anyone for 442 of the posts. This is especially true when it comes to ambassadors: for the vast majority of these diplomatic positions, the White House hasn’t yet nominated anyone. Josh Barro noted that only five countries currently have U.S. nominees awaiting Senate confirmation: Bahamas, Ethiopia, Holy See, Japan, and New Zealand (and the Vatican doesn’t really count as a country, per se).

All of this is of particular interest right now because there is no current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, which affects our response to the two recent British terrorist attacks. Trump chose Woody Johnson for the post months ago, but the administration never formally nominated Johnson, so the Senate hasn’t been able to even consider acting.

Trump apparently wants to blame Democrats for this. Even by his standards, that’s completely bonkers.

(Benen)

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Just Another One of Those Things No Republican Has the Courage to Answer For

#WhatTheyComplainedAbout | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

“The announcement that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate money to her fund was a ‘pay to play’ far more blatant than anything Hillary Clinton ever dreamed of.”

Anne Applebaum

The lack of complaint from Republicans and Trump supporters about the sort of thing they usually complain about is, historically speaking, precisely unsurprising.

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Image note: U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 20 May 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

Appelbaum, Anne. “Trump’s bizarre and un-American visit to Saudi Arabia”. The Washington Post. 21 May 2017.

The Impossible Successor

#PresidentRyan | ¿#WhatTheyVotedFor?

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Amid everything else over the last week or so, we ought not forget this:

We’re left with an unsettling picture. Flynn told the transition team he’s the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, and either that information either reached Pence or it didn’t. If Pence was out of the loop, he was dangerously incompetent at his job. If Pence knew, and Flynn became National Security Advisor anyway, that’s worse.

Remember, as the turmoil surrounding Flynn grew more serious, the vice president said he was completely unaware of Flynn’s alleged misdeeds. In March, when Fox News asked Pence about Flynn having to register as a foreign agent, Pence said he was hearing the story for the first time.

Except, as Rachel has explained on the show, that’s literally unbelievable. Not only were there multiple news reports for months about Flynn’s foreign work, but Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Pence’s transition team to make sure Team Trump was aware of this.

(Benen)

Because, quite frankly, it still cracks me up that once upon a time, when Rubio was fumbling for water, Paul was drowning in plagiarism, and Christie apparently had nothing to do with that bridge, we might have heard Mike Pence’s name whispered as the cyclical dark horse. The Indiana governor, by Republican accounts, was politically savvy and a dedicated conservative. And while others might disagree about the savvy, it seemed for naught when he signed a RFRA and failed to comprehend what happened next. Except, of course, his dramatic revitalization as Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, and then vice president. It was easy enough to joke that we might yet see a President Pence.

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#WhatTheyVotedFor (#swampstyle rebrand remix)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 12, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“This kind of thing is becoming routine in Trump’s administration, in part because he’s fostering a culture of corruption in the government, and in part because Republicans in Congress have decided to let him get away with it. They could put a stop to the routine self-enrichment fairly easily, or force him to divest his assets and set up a blind trust, but they have chosen instead to do nothing.”

Brian Beutler

If one believes in morals to the story, then there ought to be something of value in the latest outrage to earn a few seconds notice in the presidential pageant of deviant misadventure. Via The New Republic:

Donald Trump is using taxpayer dollars to enrich himself while asking Congress to fund his government. Multiple State Department websites were found promoting President Trump’s private club at Mar-a-Lago Monday, and not in particularly subtle ways.

Once upon a time, Republicans complained about this sort of thing.

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The Futility of Disbelief (One Hundred Days and Nights of Donald)

#wellduh | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump): "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!" [via Twitter, 21 April 2017]

Perhaps Pramuk and Schoen come across as, well, disbelieving and perhaps a bit tacit:

Donald Trump just called using his first 100 days in office to judge him a “ridiculous standard,” but he repeatedly boasted about what he would achieve in that exact time frame before he took office.

And, no, that isn’t so much, but that’s also just the lede. The remaining five paragraphs seem to presume something everybody ought to be in on, some vital tacitry. And this is President Donald Trump, so, yes, yes there is indeed some vital tacitry afoot.

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A Steady Drip (Carter Page)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite — Donald Trump: Detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc; Carter Page: AP Photo; Puti-Toots: Artist unknown.

Something goes here about the headlines that drop in the evening; in the week before President Trump’s infamous tweetstorm accusing President Obama of wiretapping him, evening headlines kept the White House running ragged night after night. And, yes, there is some irony that we have now come far enough ’round the circle that Carter Page might well be the answer to what the president was on about. Or, as the evening headline from the Washington Post has it, “FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page”:

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigations don’t result in criminal charges.

Rachel Maddow spent some effort on msnbc last night driving a point about how unusual it is that we should see leaked such details of a FISA warrant. In that context perhaps it behooves us to consider whether or not the prospect of leaking this FISA warrant would come about at all were it not for President Trump’s twitterpated tantrum after a week of bad evening headlines.

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