Liberal

The Trump Hole (Emergent)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz delivers a statement to the press in Washington, D.C., 8 June 2017. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP)

The sitcom pace of benchmark headlines sometimes means the effort of retort requires falling behind the story. Or, you know, there is a professional class, and say what we will about that. More directly, Steve Benen makes a certain point about the life and times of the Trump administration:

Kasowitz’s plan to go after Comey by way of the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office is itself more troubling than Comey’s actions. First, the IG’s office isn’t equipped to launch investigations into private citizens. And second, as Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney administration, noted this morning, trying to get the Justice Department to target a material witness—in this case, the former director of the FBI—only adds to the concerns about Team Trump trying to obstruct justice.

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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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Incompetence (Paging Mr. Trump)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Carter Page in Moscow, Russia, 12 July 2016.  (Photo: Reuters)

There are days when the primary argument against the idea we really are witnessing this debacle is, really, it just seems impossible that anyone could possibly be so bad at this. It seems even more impossible that the Trump administration should be inflicting so many wounds against itself. To wit, the lede from Reuters seems, by comparison, nearly harmless:

President Donald Trump sought to insert himself into congressional investigations on Russia on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to hear from one of his former advisers, Carter Page, to counter testimony by directors of the FBI and CIA.

Well, okay, we are discussing Carter Page, which is never quite as harmless as it ought to seem.

For instance, the lede and some detail from Roll Call:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Democrats of resisting testimony from Carter Page, his former campaign adviser, because he “blows away” allegations they have made.

In two tweets, the president went on to say that this alleged change of heart by Democratic members comes because they have concluded Page “blows away their … case against him.”

Trump, referring to the FBI director he fired and the Obama administration’s last CIA director, wrote that his former adviser “wants to clear his name by showing “the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan…”

A’ight, so, are we ready for the tricky part? Is there always a tricky part? Never mind.

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A Snapshot (Back to the Beholder)

#crisis | #WhatTheyVotedFor

The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

A snapshot from Associated Press:

While overseas, Trump’s longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, joined a still-forming legal team to help the president shoulder the intensifying investigations into Russian interference in the election and his associates’ potential involvement. More attorneys with deep experience in Washington investigations are expected to be added, along with crisis communication experts, to help the White House in the weeks ahead.

“They need to quarantine this stuff and put the investigations in a separate communications operation,” said Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel for President Bill Clinton.

During the Monica Lewinsky investigation, the Clinton White House brought on a dedicated group of lawyers and a created a separate media operation to handle investigation-related inquiries so they didn’t completely subsume the president’s agenda.

Trump, according to one person familiar with his thinking, believed he was facing more of a communications problem than a legal one, despite the intensifying inquiries. The person, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations.

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Ineffable Incompetence (Meddle Mix)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

The lede from Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima for the Washington Post:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

And, you know, maybe the theme this week will be something about wondering who is actually surprised. Last week, after all, seemed to focus on President Trump’s apparent inability to not insist on his own impeachment.

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A Fifth of Flynn

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's incoming National Security Adviser, listens during the presidential inaugural Chairman's Global Dinner, Tuesday, 17 January 2017, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)

How many nuts could a wingnut lug if a wingnut could lug nuts? Or, the lede from Chad Day and Stephen Braun of Associated Press:

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in rebuffing a subpoena Monday in the investigation into Russia’s election meddling. Then a top House Democrat cited new evidence he said appeared to show Flynn lied on a security clearance background check.

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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 (Corruption Conundrum)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

&#;35PutiTrump

The basic conundrum, the New York Times explained Tuesday night:

By firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has cast grave doubt on the viability of any further investigation into what could be one of the biggest political scandals in the country’s history.

The explanation for this shocking move—that Mr. Comey’s bungling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server violated longstanding Justice Department policy and profoundly damaged public trust in the agency—is impossible to take at face value. Certainly Mr. Comey deserves all the criticism heaped upon him for his repeated missteps in that case, but just as certainly, that’s not the reason Mr. Trump fired him.

Mr. Comey was fired because he was leading an active investigation that could bring down a president. Though compromised by his own poor judgment, Mr. Comey’s agency has been pursuing ties between the Russian government and Mr. Trump and his associates, with potentially ruinous consequences for the administration.

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Disgrace (James Brien Comey, Jr.)

#resist

In this photo taken May 8, 2017, FBI Director James Comey speaks in Washington. A person familiar with the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server says Huma Abedin did not forward "hundreds and thousands" of emails to her husband's laptop, as FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

And then there is this.

President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, dramatically ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s election meddling.

In a letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI. Comey has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for his role in an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s election.

Trump made no mention of Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation, which she has blamed in part for the election result that put him in the White House. But in announcing the firing, the White House circulated a scathing memo, written by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, including the director’s decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.

(Pace)

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Infamy (James Brien Comey, Jr.)

FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the State Department, 7 July 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Peter Elkind, for ProPublica:

FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin—Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy—had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss ....

.... The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

Take some time. Let that sink in.

____________________

Image note: FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Elkind, Peter. “Comey’s Testimony on Huma Abedin Forwarding Emails Was Inaccurate”. ProPublica. 9 May 2017.