Russia scandal

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?)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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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#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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Some 2020 Democratic Presidential Speculation, Just Because

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

It would be easy enough to overplay the drama in an early look toward the 2020 election by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times:

In a largely leaderless party, two distinct groups are emerging, defined mostly by age and national stature. On one side are three potential candidates approaching celebrity status who would all be over 70 years old on Election Day: Mr. Biden, and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Competing against the Democrats’ senior cohort is a large and relatively shapeless set of younger candidates who span the ideological spectrum: governors, senators, mayors, wealthy executives and even members of the House. They are animated by the president’s turbulent debut and the recent history, from Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 to Mr. Trump’s last year, of upstart candidates’ catching fire.

In the Senate alone, as much as a quarter of the Democrats’ 48-member caucus are thought to be giving at least a measure of consideration to the 2020 race, among them Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California. All are closer to 40 than 80.

For now, however, it is the party’s septuagenarian trio that is casting the longest shadow over 2020, and all three have taken steps to extend or expand their leadership status in the party.

In between, for good measure, is discussion of an amorphous non-faction we might consider as the collected other, including Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-06), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Before booking the orchestra for a dramatic score, we should remember this is merely April, 2017; Democrats need to to read the midterm map, first. That is to say, it seems a bit early to see who lands where in relation to what. And, admittedly, it is hard to account for the proverbial known unknowns in the time of Trump; the unknown unknowns seem extraordinary at this time, too.α

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A Whiff of the Racket

#extortion | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump, joined by HHS Secretary Tom Price (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) explains his intention to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, 24 March 2017, at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by The Washington Post)

The setup, here, is not particularly complex. We can start with blaming Democrats after the collapse of #Trumpcare, which apparently failed to be #SomethingTerrific. It seems a reliable first instinct for Republicans; that is, as Steve Benen notes:

When Donald Trump’s Muslim ban failed miserably in the courts, the president was quick to assign blame—to everyone but himself. Now that the health care plan Trump wanted has also collapsed, he’s desperate to avoid responsibility, though he seems unsure who to point the finger at first.

Trump’s first instinct, evidently, was to call the Washington Post to blame Democrats.

And if the president seems to be engaging in that weird Republican sense of sport by which one simply says enough wrong that there is no reasonable way to address every problem, well, right, he is. That is to say, here we all are a few weeks later, and Mr. Trump is still upset that Democrats won’t do Republicans’ jobs for them. Again, Benen:

The confused president was nevertheless convinced that Democrats should’ve helped him destroy the most significant Democratic accomplishment since Medicare—because Trump said so. Indeed, despite the White House’s previous claims that Republicans would shift their attention towards tax reform, Trump told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he not only remains focused on health care, he’s also considering a new hostage strategy to force Democrats to give him what he wants.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.

“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump said, referring to cost-sharing reductions. “I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt…. What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
In other words, when the president says he doesn’t “want people to get hurt,” he means he will start hurting people by sabotaging the American health care system unless Democrats take steps to satisfy his demands.

This is a terrible habit. That is, we all know Donald Trump likes a bit of the tough-guy, wannabe mafioso bluff, but he is President of the United States of Amerca, and should not be seen threatening extortion over legislation, full stop.

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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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Carter Page

#NoPuppetNoPuppet | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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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#DimensionSteve (Narrative)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

We might take a moment now and then to observe the power of narrative, and it is fair enough to acknowledge there is nothing new if we take the note from Steve Benen of msnbc:

When it comes to Donald Trump’s White House and issues related to the Nazi Holocaust, the president and his team have made some unfortunate missteps. There was, for example, the ill-advised statement honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January. A month later, the West Wing had an odd quarrel with the Anne Frank Center.

Today, however, Team Trump broke new ground.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler on Tuesday, saying that even someone as “despicable” as the German dictator “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Asked moments later to clarify those remarks, Spicer, speaking from the White House podium, said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them.”

Spicer went on to say Hitler brought people into “Holocaust centers.”

All of this, of course, unfolded from the White House podium during Passover.

Part of what makes this so remarkable is how obviously wrong Spicer was. One need not be a historian to know Hitler gassed Holocaust victims. The reference to “his own people” made an unfortunate mistake worse. As for Spicer describing Nazi concentration camps as “Holocaust centers,” I honestly don’t know where to start.

(11 April 2017)

To the one, it really was an awkward circumstance even more unnerving to experience, even having heard or read about it. And, yes, the Press Secretary is a particularly unfortunate example of his office; Mr. Spicer can very much seem emblematic of Trump administration incompetence. There is no chic about Cheeky Spice’s reboot of the dignity of the office. There is, however, the added gravity of just how this White House has managed to create it’s own … er … ah … question about Jews. Of course, there is also this: We should not be surprised, although back then conventional wisdom thought going after Jews to their faces like that was a bad idea.

Still, though: If we call it a Kinsley gaffe, then what truth have we just glimpsed?

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Very Nearly Inexplicable (Twitterpated Intelligence)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr): "It's only fair that I have a chance to respond 2 any smears or half truths about alleged 'Collusion with Russians' from 2day's Intel Hearing" [via Twitter, 20 March 2017]

The hardest part of explaining Roger Stone is the fact of trying to explain Roger Stone; it a dangerous venture best left to some sort of expert. And part of this really is that he does not seem to know when to not boast, and that ridiculous episode seems to have set the tone for Caroline O.’s unparalleled tweetstorm tracking Mr. Stone’s presence in the Russia scandal, which in turn ought to be required reading.

And, in truth, if you happened to be paying the slightest of attention, it just really was something absolutely special to see Mr. Stone ask for a chance to bring his genuinely unbelievable show to the House Intelligence Committee.

This is one of those offers they can’t refuse. At least, they shouldn’t. That is to say, really? Seriously? Roger Stone wants to testify before Congress?

A’ight, then.

____________________

Image note: Tweet by Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr), 20 March 2017: “It’s only fair that I have a chance to respond 2 any smears or half truths about alleged ‘Collusion with Russians’ from 2day’s Intel Hearing”.

Beavers, Olivia. “Roger Stone claims ‘legal back channel’ to Assange”. The Hill. 5 March 2017.

O., Caroline. “You ready to take a little trip down memory lane with our good friend Roger Stone and his buddy Guccifer 2.0?” Twitter. 19 March 2017.

Stone Jr., Roger J. “It’s only fair that I have a chance to respond 2 any smears or half truths about alleged ‘Collusion with Russians’ from 2day’s Intel Hearing”. Twitter. 20 March 2017.

Rather Quite Obvious (Priorities)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City on 22 February 2017. The visit is the second foreign trip of Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

The lede from Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip an April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers for a U.S. visit by the Chinese president and will travel to Russia later in the month, U.S. officials said on Monday, a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.

And a bit of the detail:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added.

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