national security advisor

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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Not a Comedy (Write Your Own Ship of State and McMaster and Commander in Chief and Hand on the Tillerson Joke, Damn It—Why Do I Always Have To Do Everything?)

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

This is not supposed to be some manner of comedy. Or, several paragraphs from Reuters:

Tillerson and McMaster were present at the May 10 meeting where Trump discussed his firing of James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The New York Times, citing officials familiar with an internal White House summary of the meeting, reported that Trump referred to Comey as a “nut job” and said his removal would relieve “great pressure” coming from the agency’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Lavrov denied that the subject of Comey came up during the meeting, according to Interfax news agency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had offered to provide the U.S. Congress with transcripts of the same meeting to counter reports that Trump also disclosed classified information to Lavrov about a planned Islamic State operation.

However, neither McMaster nor Tillerson on Sunday disputed that the subject of Comey’s dismissal came up in the meeting with Russian officials. Both said that Trump’s remarks had been misinterpreted.

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The Impossible Successor

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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)

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&#;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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The Gathering Storm (Sally Forth)

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#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

Via Associated Press:

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates is expected to testify to Congress next week that she expressed alarm to the White House about President Donald Trump’s national security adviser’s contacts with the Russian ambassador, which could contradict how the administration has characterized her counsel.

Yates is expected to recount in detail her Jan. 26 conversation about Michael Flynn and that she saw discrepancies between the administration’s public statements on his contacts with ambassador Sergey Kislyak and what really transpired, according to a person familiar with that discussion and knowledgeable about Yates’s plans for her testimony. The person spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the testimony.

As a general rule, it seems wise to suggest we cannot really know what to expect, except, of course, the general outline of history, that Yates warned the Trump administration about Michael Flynn, and all the President’s men and women seem to have ignored her. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., 28 June 2016. (Photo: J. David Ake/AP Photo) And, you know, maybe that explains she was fired, though upsetting the president by refusing to enforce his unvetted executive order might do it, regardlesss of being yet another improper reason to dismiss a Justice Department attorney.

And, true, it is not necessarily helpful to wonder if this will be what blows proverbial lids into orbit or smithereens or whatever happens to them when they come off highly-pressurized metaphors. Still, though, as societal institutions struggle to catch up on the avalanche backlog of dubious and dangerous implications about Team Trump’s behavior, complacency can have many meanings. There is comfort in the notion that the processes continue despite Congressional Republicans, but it is also easy to get lost in some abstract faith that this all adds up to something. Their guilt does not preclude process, and that, apparently, requires some degree of extraordinary vigilance, as the Congressional majority really does not seem particularly interested in doing their job. All told, though, this should be something of a spectacle. You know, in that boring way that Congressional hearings are, followed by breathless analysis verging on panic because we … must … know … this … now! … even if it’s just some pundit saying we don’t know anything yet.

You know: Breaking: Pundit — “Too soon to know what to think.”

____________________

Image note: Top — #PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016. Left — Sally Q. Yates (Credit: J. David Ake/AP Photo).

Tucker, Eric. “AP source: Yates to testify on warning White House on Flynn”. Associated Press.

Carter Page

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

This is Carter Page. Honestly, it is pretty much what it looks like. The headlines can tell you quite a bit, and either read along or don’t; there is a lot there, and the tale really is as clumsy and ridiculous as it seems.

• Milder, Zachary. “Trump’s New Russia Adviser Has Deep Ties to Kremlin’s Gazprom”. Bloomberg. 30 March 2016.

• Ioffe, Julia. “The Mystery of Trump’s Man in Moscow”. Politico. 23 September 2016.

• Nechepurenko, Ivan. “Carter Page, Ex-Trump Adviser With Russian Ties, Visits Moscow”. The New York Times. 8 December 2016.

• Schwarz, Jon. “Carter Page, at Center of Trump Russian Investigation, Writes Bizarre Letter to DOJ Blaming Hillary Clinton”. The Intercept. 15 February 2017.

• Woodruff, Judy. “Former Trump adviser says he had no Russian meetings in the last year”. News Hour. 15 February 2017.

• Reilly, Steve. “Two other Trump advisers also spoke with Russian envoy during GOP convention”. USA Today. 2 March 2017.

• Helsel, Phil. “Carter Page, Adviser Once Linked to Trump Campaign, Met With Russian Ambassador”. NBC News. 3 March 2017.

• Herridge, Catherine, Pamela K. Browne, and Christopher Wallace. “Ex-Trump adviser Carter Page rips ‘false narrative’ on Russia collusion”. FOX News. 30 March 2017.

• Ross, Brian and Matthew Mosk. “Trump campaign adviser Carter Page targeted for recruitment by Russian spies”. ABC News. 4 April 2017.

• Groll, Elias. “Russian Spy Met Trump Adviser Carter Page and Thought He Was an ‘Idiot'”. Foreign Policy. 4 April 2017.

• Kaczynski, Andrew. “Former Trump adviser Carter Page says he didn’t disclose Russian spy contacts to campaign”. CNN. 5 April 2017.

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A Brief Sketch (Not Quite Caviar)

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), January, 2014. (AP Photo)

We should probably sketch this detail of the cycle:

• Press Secretary defends Attorney General:

Sessions called the report “false” in a statement last night, saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.” He repeated this morning that he would recuse himself wherever it is appropriate to do so.

However, Spicer said that would not apply in this case.

“There’s nothing to recuse himself [from]. He was 100% straight with the committee,” said Spicer, adding that Democrats should be “ashamed of themselves” for playing “partisan politics” on this issue.

(FOX News)

• President defends Attorney General:

President Trump defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday night, insisting that the former Alabama senator “did not say anything wrong” amid swirling criticism over his testimony earlier this year about contacts with Russian officials.

Trump appeared to be referring to Sessions’ statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation, when Sessions said he had not spoken to Russian officials. It was revealed this week that Sessions twice spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. last year.

“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong,” Trump said in a statement posted on Facebook. “He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”

(Greenwood)

• The Attorney General runs to FOX News for a friendly interview:

Sessions explained that the question he received from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) at his January confirmation hearing focused specifically on whether he had spoken with Russia continually about the presidential campaign. While Sessions has now admitted he met twice with the Russian ambassador last year, he said they did not have any such conversations about political campaigns.

Why, though, Carlson wondered, did former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s own Russian scandal not raise any red flags with him? After all, Flynn was eventually pressured to resign.

“It was never a thought,” Sessions insisted. It was “unrelated.”

The Russian officials and any one else in the room at the times of his meetings would corroborate that he “did not say one thing that was improper.”

(O’Brien)

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Passthrough (Presidential Potsherd)

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President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“I assume ‘let’s blame Obama’ will become a popular rallying cry in far-right circles, because it’s vastly easier than dealing with the facts.”

Steve Benen

It is not quite correct to ask who is surprised. In truth, nobody ought to be surprised. Still, though, if we inquire, for the sake of some decent societal form, what brought on Mr. Benen’s line, well:

This week, the president has moved on to a new explanation: this is all Obama’s fault. USA Today reported this morning:

President Trump said that former president Barack Obama is “behind” the angry protests that have erupted at Republican town halls around the nation during an interview on the Fox News morning program Fox and Friends scheduled to air Tuesday morning.

“I think he is behind it,” Trump said when asked about Obama’s role in the protests. “I also think it’s politics. That’s the way it is.

“No, I think that President Obama is behind it,” Trump said, “because his people are certainly behind it and some of the leaks, possibly come from that group, some of the leaks – which are really very serious leaks because they’re very bad in terms of national security – but I also understand that’s politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that’s politics. And it will probably continue.”

This is, in many ways, the perfect Donald J. Trump Conspiracy Theory.

And this is the Donald J. Trump administration, after all.

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The Trump Fantastic (#trumpstyle)

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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?

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