Russia

What They Voted For: Screaming, Flaming Handbasket

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen answers questions during a press briefing at the White House, in Washington, D.C., 18 June 2018. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

This is one of those that doesn’t so much go downhill from there, but, rather, is a screaming, flaming handbasket in medias res:

On Monday, new reporting continued to reveal the realities of the Trump administration policy of forcibly separating children from their adult guardians who cross the border without U.S. citizenship. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are both on record endorsing the practice as a means of deterring undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

Yet the president and members of his staff have repeatedly and falsely blamed Congress—in particular congressional Democrats—for the nearly-2,000 children who have reportedly been taken into federal custody in just the last six weeks.

(Nuzzi)

The flashback, then:

When top members of Donald Trump’s team add the word “period” to their most outlandish claims, it’s a safe bet they know they’re lying. The day after the president’s inauguration, for example, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer angrily told reporters, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period.”

(Benen)

Something about ominous setups goes here; unfortunately, all we find is a sick punch line:

Nielsen, in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association in New Orleans, said the children are provided food, medical attention, education and anything else they might need.

“We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job,” she said. “This administration has a simple message—If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you.”

Nielsen spoke hours after taking to Twitter to vehemently deny that her department’s border policy dictates separation of children from their parents.

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” Nielsen tweeted late Sunday.

(Bacon)

(more…)

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The State of the Department (Quack)

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

With apologies: Altered detail from cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 April 2018.

“guess how many people are working on Iranian nuclear proliferation at the State Department? as of today....zero”

Anne Applebaum

We should be clear that by today, the columnist means Friday last, when she posted the tweet, which refers, in turn, to a report from Foreign Policy:

One of the State Department’s top experts on nuclear proliferation resigned this week after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in what officials and analysts say is part of a worrying brain drain from public service generally over the past 18 months.

Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.

Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.

Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.

Today is Tuesday, and elsewhere in the commentariat Steve Benen notes, “The article didn’t explicitly say that Johnson resigned in protest, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a mystery about what happened here.”

(more…)

What They Voted For: The Laughingstock

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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)

Because the first part of the making something great again is wrecking it so that it needs to be recovered:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of 'Fire and Fury', by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)On Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was pictured in a post on his Instagram feed at the Tehran Book Fair.

Nothing unusual there, but in one image he was seen reading a Persian-language edition of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. The subject of which, of course, is the chaos inside Mr Trump’s White House.

When the book was released in January, it was described as a “bombshell” by commentators as it raised doubts over Mr Trump’s mental health.

It claimed Mr Trump said he pursued his friends’ wives, that his daughter Ivanka would mock him, and that the US president would eat cheeseburgers in bed.

(BBC)

This is, of course, only days after President Hassan Rouhani responded to President Trump’s dereliction of a nuclear treaty by “conferring with the world’s two super powers, Russia and China”.

Yes, this demolition of American prestige is precisely what Republicans voted for. They cannot prove to us that government doesn’t work unless they break everything; they cannot make the nation great “again” if they do not lay it low. And, yes, in their own way, a game show host and flaccid farce, an obvious subject for Ayatollah Khamenei to scorch with such easy, demonstrative, blistering critique, is precisely what Trump supporters voted for.

This is actually part of their supremacism: It is easier to foster a world war if supporters feel insulted by the designated enemy; Trump seems to think Iranians are as simplistic as his followers, so he makes it easy for the Ayatollah to zing the President of the United States because he knows the magagaga are, themselves, easy marks.

They did elect him, after all.

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Image note: Top — President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference after winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  Right — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei trolling Trump?” BBC News. 11 May 2018.

Neither Insignificant Nor Unexpected

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

The lede from Associated Press is not insignificant, but it is also expected:

Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of President Donald Trump’s closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, The Associated Press has learned.

Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations . . . .

. . . .One of the people who spoke to AP said the questioning focused entirely on two officials from Trump’s campaign who have been indicted by Mueller: Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Gates agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statement charges in February and began cooperating with investigators.

This person said Barrack was interviewed “months ago” and was asked a few questions about Gates’ work on Trump’s inaugural committee, which Barrack chaired, and but there were no questions about the money raised by that committee.

A second person with knowledge of the Barrack interview said the questioning was broader and did include financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

If the question is what Barrack’s interview means in the larger scheme, the fact of the interview itself is expected in part because of his proximity to candidate- and then President Trump, but also for his connection to convicted felon Rick Gates, which includes helping him gain access to the White House. And if the unsurprising news is not insignificant, we need only stick the proverbial pin and stay tuned.

(more…)

One of Those Moments Spent Wondering What the Hell Is Wrong With President Trump

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump attends the Miss Universe 2013 competition at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia, 9 November 2013. (Photo: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images)This is the sort of question that might well remain beyond any definitive answer:

President Donald Trump twice gave James Comey an alibi for why a salacious report about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow couldn’t be true: He never even spent the night in Russia during that trip, Trump told the former FBI director, according to Comey’s memos about the conversations.

Yet the broad timeline of Trump’s stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it’s substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.

Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump’s own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.

(Silver)

In all of history, given every stupid gaffe and inadequate excuse we might ever hear from politicians, what part of this was worth lying about, and by what measure would anyone expect to get away with it? The social media aspect is itself ridiculously damning. That is to say, it is perhaps possible to imagine a circumstance whereby someone like Donald Trump might not even bother to think about whether or not flight records can be ultimately hidden, but, you know, posing for promotional pictures and then saying one was not actually there is one of the tougher sells. True, Trump voters will generally be okay with it because whatever Trump says is #WhatTheyVotedFor, but for the rest of society, regardless of any other mystery about the #TrumpRussia debacle, this one just shines.

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Image note: Donald Trump attends the Miss Universe 2013 competition at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia, 9 November 2013. (Photo: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Silver, Vernon. “Flight Records Illuminate Mystery of Trump’s Moscow Nights”. Bloomberg. 23 April 2018.

Not Exactly Subtle

#PutiPoodle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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

This is all ritual, right?

When asked—three times—at a White House press briefing about Russia’s link to the poisoning or any possible repercussions for the country from the U.S., Sanders carefully did not say “Russia”—or otherwise address who may have been responsible for the attack. She characterized it as an “indiscriminate” attack, although British authorities have concluded that Skripal was clearly targeted.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)“We’ve been monitoring the incident closely, take it very seriously,” Sanders said. “The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation.”

“So you’re not saying that Russia was behind this?” a reporter asked.

“Right now, we are standing with our U.K. ally,” Sanders said again. “I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that.”

Pressed a third time, an annoyed Sanders answered, “Like I just said, we stand with our ally and we certainly fully support them and are ready if we can be of any assistance.”

(Papenfuss)

That is, just to be clear: We put up with the lying farce that is the Trump administration every day according to some pretense that we all recognize what is happening and it ought to be over, eventually, when Mueller and the American Way of Truth and Justice finally come through.

Right?

(more…)

Not a Word Game: The Seychelles and the Mercenary

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

This is not a word game. I dare you to put all these words and strings of words together in some way that makes sense:

• Mercenary
• Brother of future Secretary of Education
• Unofficial Trump envoy
• Secret meeting
• The Seychelles
• Russia
• United Arab Emirates
• Qatar
• Failed loan negotiation
• President’s family
• Blockade
• UAE hired mercenary army to invade Qatar

And remember: This is how the news cycle has gone over the last week, in terms of what we learn about the #trumpswindle.

In the moment we might pause to imagine a photo of Erik Prince tacked to a wall amid a network of yarn connecting him to other photos of people in some vast conspiracy theory, we could easily also admit it is rather quite a strange prospect to say, So that’s what he was doing in the Seychelles.

It might also behoove us to wonder at the spectacle of such intrigue; to some degree it really does seem melodramatic adventure complete with villanous buffoonery—or is it buffoonish villainy?—is #WhatTheyVotedFor.

How Mitch Made It

#PutiPoodle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

There is a question of whether political messaging is similar to sentiments regarding the periods in which humans have been recording audio or video, and the proposition that we should, as a society, have passed the threshold by which it seems plausible to say one did not say it when anyone in their right mind already knows there is a definitive recording of the very words one really did say. Perhaps it seems obscure, but twenty years ago, traditional Christianist evangelism faltered on the internet and required transformation in large part because countless repetition wore it thin, while myriad objections and retorts pelted traditional religionistic grifting into remission. At some point, then, we might wonder when the necromancy required to raise the dead horse in order to kill it and beat it to chum all over again becomes apparent to political audiences. NBC News brings the latest ouroboros ’round Republican mulberries:

Former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Sunday said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “watered down” a warning about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and defended the Obama administration’s response to foreign meddling in the campaign.

The language in a September 2016 letter from congressional leaders to state election officials was drastically softened at McConnell’s urging, McDonough said in an exclusive interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” . . . .

. . . . Asked if it was watered down at the insistence of McConnell and only McConnell, McDonough responded, “yes.”

Or, as Steve Benen reminds:

The problem, of course, is that every time Trump World turns its attention to officials’ response to Russian intervention in 2016, we’re reminded that it wasn’t Barack Obama who was negligent—it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

(more…)

Enterprising Stupidity (American Way Mix)

Detail of frame from 'Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor' episode 8, "Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …"

This is not a joke:

Hewlett Packard Enterprise allowed a Russian defense agency to review the inner workings of cyber defense software used by the Pentagon to guard its computer networks, according to Russian regulatory records and interviews with people with direct knowledge of the issue.

The HPE system, called ArcSight, serves as a cybersecurity nerve center for much of the U.S. military, alerting analysts when it detects that computer systems may have come under attack. ArcSight is also widely used in the private sector.

The Russian review of ArcSight’s source code, the closely guarded internal instructions of the software, was part of HPE’s effort to win the certification required to sell the product to Russia’s public sector, according to the regulatory records seen by Reuters and confirmed by a company spokeswoman.

(Schectman, Volz, and Stubbs)

At some point, words will fail to fail.

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Image note: Detail of frame from ‘Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor’ episode 8, “Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …”.

Schectman, Joel, Dustin Volz, and Jack Stubbs. “Special Report: HP Enterprise let Russia scrutinize cyberdefense system used by Pentagon”. Reuters. 2 October 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.