Here is the link to the Friedman op-ed that was the subject of “Mandatory reading”.
If the link doesn’t work, go back to Google and Friedman Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all of us.
Here is the link to the Friedman op-ed that was the subject of “Mandatory reading”.
If the link doesn’t work, go back to Google and Friedman Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all of us.
If you read absolutely nothing else the rest of this entire year, use a Google search to take you to Thomas Friedman’s op-ed “Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all of us” In the New York Times. The key phrase “Friedman Trump op-ed” should do it.
Friedman’s screed, published this past Sunday, lays out in the starkest of terms, just how 45 has failed to live up to his oath of office to protect our country; to engage in a blatant dereliction of duty as he says and does nothing in the form of leading against Russia’s assault on our country’s electoral process.(1)
The writer’s coda, his bottom line, is that we are experiencing a “code red” as the greatest threat to our democracy resides in the Oval Office. That judgment will come as no surprise to visitors who frequent this blogsite; i.e. that very point has been made here on multiple occasions, the latest being “Staggering and it’s going to get worse”, published here on February 13, 2018, and the companion “Blog extra”, published on that same date.
This relatively short statement is being posted just two hours after “Staggering and it’s going to get worse!!” went out. This “Extra” was prompted by the evening news which picked up where “Staggering….” left off and then added some crucial information that will be cited here.
Today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing
Seated in front of the committee were the heads of all our major intelligence agencies. Each affirmed that Russian meddling in advance of our 2018 midterm election had already begun. Then, each was pointedly asked what if any steps had been taken to circumvent this activity. The answer was basically, we have some plans and methods in mind, but their development and implementation must await a directive from the president. Then, Senator Jake Reed (D-RI) asked each if they had received any such prompt from 45? Every one of them said No!!!
Let that sink in.
In the face of universal acknowledgement that the Russians are meddling again and that the action needed to thwart such activity requires a presidential “go-ahead”, Trump has, to date, done/said nothing !!! This begs the question “Why?” Here is a very plausible answer:
By allowing the Russians to create confusion and division and thus muddle the election, Trump improves the chances that the “blue wave” cited in “Staggering” won’t take place and he will not be confronted with the prospect of being impeached by a Democratic -controlled House.
If this analysis is ever proven to be valid, then in the simplest, straightforward terms, 45 has opted to save his presidency rather than our democratic institution of free and fair elections.
Let that sink in !!!
The 2016 election is over, Trump has won and over half our nation is in shock. This state then expands to include anger when our Intelligence community, less than two months’ later (1), makes public its firm conclusion that Russia used various means to meddle in our election; their goal to seat Trump in the White House.
The new president’s response to this revelation? It’s a “hoax…”fake news”… a “made-up story”. Since then, in the more than a year that has elapsed, not once has 45 changed that position. Not once has he come forward, accepted the considered judgment of the entire Intel community, and finally condemned Russia. To the contrary, he has continued heaping lavish praise on Vladimir Putin, and refused to enforce new and tougher sanctions against Russia that had been initiated by Congress (2).
His reason for this latter inaction is stunning: It was Trump’s opinion that the sanctions originally put in place by then-President Obama were proving effective in deterring further Russian meddling. Hence, another round of sanctions was not needed. Note that this claim of the effectiveness of previous sanctions was offered without a shred of supportive evidence. In fact, what will be offered next is proof that we need much more than another round of strictures.
The here and now
Earlier today, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a hearing with the goal of determining the extent to which Russia remains a threat to interfere in our 2018 midterm election (3). What follows are some of the key “take-aways” from what committee members heard and/or had previously learned:
+ The entire Intelligence community predicts with a “high degree of confidence” that Russia will “escalate” their meddling using “bolder and more disruptive….” tactics.
+ CIA Director Mike Pompeo said he had “every expectation” that Russian meddling would be sustained (January 1, 2018).
+ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson” asserted that the Russians were “already” engaged in follow-up activity (February 7, 2018).
+Social media platforms like Facebook are reporting a surge in messaging that has been aimed at reinforcing a narrative that Trump has been the target of an unscrupulous FBI plot to remove him from office. (4)
Everyone of those bullet points flies in the face of Trump’s baseless judgment that existing sanctions have been effective such that new, harsher ones aren’t needed.
This staggering state of affairs was best summed up today in the committee hearing by Senator Angus King (I-Maine): “We cannot confront the threat (of Russian meddling) with a whole government response when the leader (DJT) continues to deny it exists….We are fighting a global battle with our hands tied behind our backs”.
It’s going to get worse
Experts are predicting that the coming midterm is one in which Democrats are likely to gain seats in both houses of Congress. There have even been references to a “blue wave”. This is dangerous because it serves to generate what may be unrealistic expectations about the election’s outcome. Consider these matters of fact:
+ Trump’s defenders know what is at stake if the Dem’s gain a majority in the House. Impeachment of 45 will clearly be on the table. Knowing that will mobilize his supporters and get them to the polls in droves.
+ Russian meddling, especially through the use of social media as a vehicle for sowing discontent and distrust among segments of the electorate.
+ What was once a double-digit lead for Dem’s in generic ballot polling has now dipped down into the single digits.
+ Left-leaning voters are notorious for not turning out for midterm elections.
And suppose with expectations high, the “blue wave” doesn’t materialize. What then? The likely answer is more discord, more divisiveness and distrust. If that case, we will be confronted with this question that is not new to our politics; i.e. “Can the center hold?” If not, then our democracy is in serious danger of coming apart at the seams.
We are now witnessing two acts by Trump that are all about protecting his presidency over protecting our country. This isn’t even about “party”; it’s all about Trump.
Releasing the Nunes memo
This document, which has now generated an extraordinary level of controversy, is the product of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and a subset of committee Republican colleagues. They sorted through extensive material looking for any bits of information that could be strung together to form a narrative that condemns the FBI for its handling of both the investigation into HRC e-mails, and intelligence related to Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia. Not surprisingly, 45’s supporters have insisted on the memo’s release into the public domain as it puts into question the validity of SP Mueller’s probe into any possible collusion between the president and Russia.
Prompted by higher-ups in the Intel community, Deputy FBI Director Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray have warned Trump that the Nunes memo contains classified information that ought to be redacted so that it not be part of any public disclosure. Obviously, such select information would be of value to our enemies who would like nothing better than to shut down sources from which we gather information that is key to our national security.
As of the date of this blog, Trump has assured congressional Republicans that he is “100%” in favor of releasing the memo. Will it be redacted? If it isn’t, then 45 has put our national security at risk in favor of saving his own skin.
Russian sanctions? Pffffft !!!
That Russia sought to meddling in our last election is now accepted as a matter of fact. In response to that cyberattack, both houses of Congress, in near-unanimous votes, passed new and more repressive sanctions against Russia and specific members of that nation’s oligarchy. Those sanctions were sent to Trump for review with a January 29th deadline for his implementing them. That deadline just passed without the sanctions being put into effect.
As a rationale for this inaction, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has argued that existing sanctions are already acting as a deterrent to future Russian meddling. This argument is problematic on several different levels: (1) the claim of effective deterrence is offered without a shred of supporting evidence; (2) it flies in the face of CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s assertion that the Russians are committed to continue their meddling; and (3) by refusing to implement new and rougher sanctions, Trump is lending indirect support to the belief that he is under Putin’s control and, for whatever reason, will do the Russian leader’s bidding. If a question can be “begged”, here is one that can be screamed; i.e. “What does Putin have on Trump?”
This is extraordinary !! The new sanctions are a matter of law and 45 has chosen to not enforce it. This puts the ball squarely in Congress’ court. One avenue it can take is to pass new legislation depriving Trump of any immediate future opportunity to review the sanctions, thus forcing him to implement them or be subject to open rebuke for not doing so. To demur yet again, Trump runs the risk of violating his oath of office; i.e. “To faithfully execute….” Add that to the growing grounds for impeachment.
Since the last posting at this site a week ago, a flurry of political stories have challenged your blogger to select one for commentary. What follows may be a better choice; i.e. a synopsis of each one of five of them.
The results of the president’s first physical as set forth by his physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, were made public. Declaring that the First Patient was in “excellent health” with intact cognitive functioning, the good doctor opined that 45 would be good for the rest of this term and even another thereafter.
This latter broad prediction flies in the face of the facts that Trump is just one pound shy of being declared “obese” according to accepted medical standards. His regular unhealthy diet and lack of virtually any vigorous exercise (1) have both been well-documented. That he is at serious risk for a heart attack is obvious.
Historically, there have been several instances where the president’s physician has downplayed their patient’s well being. It happened with FDR, JFK, LBJ and certainly Reagan. Now we can count Dr. Ronny Jackson as yet another “minimizer”.
Too narrow a focus
No one should entertain the singular thought that any basis for impeaching Trump will rest on just obstruction of justice. What follows is a list of possible offenses that may also come into play: perjury, money laundering, conspiracy to aid a foreign adversary, and conspiracy to subvert our electoral process. The guess here is that SP Mueller will hit 45 with the proverbial “kitchen sink”.
Conservative “talking point” deflated
As evidence of FBI bias against Trump, conservatives continue to claim that the Bureau and its agents gave HRC license to lie when they failed to put her under oath before taking testimony from her regarding her use of a private server and the messages that came to and issued from that device.
This is nonsense! Lying to the FBI is a crime whether you are under oath or not. Conservatives need to get in touch with the law relative to this matter and drop what is clearly an invalid talking point. If they want to prove FBI bias, they’ll have to find another way to do it.
Where did all that money go?
In the run-up to Trump’s inauguration, millions of dollars in donations were collected to help offset the cost of that event. Most if not all of that money has gone missing. The man who at least nominally had control over those funds was Rick Gates. If that name rings a bell it’s because Gates has already been indicted by SP Mueller for money laundering. Hmmm!
More GOP conspiratorial machinations
There’s a need not to tar all Republicans with the same brush. Rather, the focus here is on a subset of those that sit on the House Intelligence Committee. Led by Devin Nunes, this “rump group”, working behind closed doors, sifted through reams of documents and testimony. They were looking for any bits of evidence, however small and tenuous, that they could selectively take out of context, and use as a “hook”on which to hang their latest conspiracy.
Briefly put, the conspiracy unfolds thusly: Prior to the 2016 election, then-President Obama presented the secret FISA Court with what he claimed was substantiated intelligence that justified the covert wiretapping of Trump intimates. But, according to the aforementioned Nunes, said intel had not been verified making Obama’s assertion bogus and the surveillance, conducted by the FBI, illegal.
Nunes and his cohorts took their slivers of selectively gathered information, created a 4-page memo in support of their theory, and loudly announced what they had done. This generated a demand for the public release of the memo along with a call for punishment for those who had so egregiously and unlawfully invaded the privacy of one or more US citizens. How dare they? This was advertised as “Worse than Watergate” !!
Before Nunes could release the memo for public consumption, he was warned by the Justice Department not to do so until the contents of the document could be reviewed to ensure that it did not contain classified information which it actually did. This left Nunes up a stump; he had created a furor for the release of the memo, but now couldn’t move forward without putting himself in legal jeopardy. What to do, what to do?
Nunes went shopping, looking for someone who could release the memo without getting cross-wise with the law. No such person existed. As a result, as of today’s date, the document remains in Nunes’ hands, out of the public domain though its contents have been shared with various Republican members of Congress. In turn, they have taken to inform anyone within earshot that the memo’s contents show how corrupt Obama and the FBI were and are. No specifics are offered; it’s a “take my word for it” proposition.
The fundamental problem with all this, is that the underlying claim about unverified intel is a fiction. By the time the FISA warrant for surveillance had been issued, there was ample evidence to support that action. It came from our own Intel community and those parts of the Steele dossier that had been verified.
We are approaching the 250th year of our existence as a sovereign nation. How have we managed this without losing what patriots died for and our Founding Fathers put in place; i.e. a republic based on democratic principles? What has kept us going? The answer resides in what here will be discussed here as the “two rails of our democracy”.
The rule of law
Our history has been marked by rebellions (1), insurrections and large-scale demonstrations, most of the latter have been of the peaceful type. But, we have always come back to our reverence for the rule of law; our decision to adhere to and embrace the Constitution, to allow tests of it to be settled by the courts, to accept those outcomes, and to hold to our belief in E pluribus unum (Out of many, one).
The critical importance of all of this has led to the understanding that the acceptance of all this in its many manifestations manifestations, is the hard rail of our democracy.
The soft rail
Hand-in-hand with the hard rail, there is this: civility in word and action, especially in our public behavior and political discourse. Even when the law doesn’t turn in our favor, when court decisions don’t go our way, we have, in the main, comported ourselves like grownups who understand that in a democracy, we will win some, lose some, but always have our fair chance to be heard and respected.
The two rails under Trump
It should go without saying that anything or anyone that weakens either or both of the two rails is courting trouble for our democracy. Yet, that is exactly what the 45th president has done.
Even as he campaigned, he roiled crowds with talk of dealing with opponents by means of a “punch in the face” or having then removed “on a stretcher”. He referred to people with demeaning nicknames like “lying Ted…(and) little Marco”. He condemned the media as “fake news” but never offered a thoughtful, fact-based rebuttal to what he considered their invalid reporting. These forms of uncivil behavior have now spilled over into his presidency with Tweetstorms and references to people in the news with sobriquets like ” little rocketman, sloppy Steve” and “Dicky”. This level of communication obviously plays well with a political base that enjoys having its collective spleen stroked. But, it is destructive as witnessed by the fact that opinion writers, bloggers (2) and members of the general public have begun to devolve towards that same style and content.
Coupled with the foregoing, we have Trump’s disdain for any court and/or judge that acts again him in the process of upholding the law and the Constitution. His relentless attacks on the news media show little respect for the role of a free press in a democratic society and First Amendment protections. He disparages the Justice Department, the nation’s chief law enforcement agency. Congress, even though controlled by his own party, gets its fair share of verbal abuse when it fails to deliver legislatively on campaign promises that he made. Political opponents are not challenged to policy debates, but subjected to vilification. For Trump, there is no “loyal opposition” to be respected for their principles even as one holds to a different set of them. They are the enemy and are described as such in so many words.
We and our democracy are on a dangerous path. Whether 45 has put us there or not isn’t a debate worth having. What is clear, is that he is pushing us along it and those who have joined him, even as his opponents, have put our democracy in peril by doing so. Trump shows no sign of exerting the kind of leadership needed to create a course correction, even as one is clearly needed. By and large, conservatives in and out of government, have shown themselves to either be supportive of 45’s behavior or have achieved the same end with their silence. Complicity can take many forms.
Our first chance at a reversal will come with this year’s election. That should be taken as a call to elect to Congress, individuals whether an R or D, who will actively set a new tone and especially evince an open support for the very democratic institutions that 45 has so disparaged.
1. The Whiskey and Shay’s rebellions are just two examples from our early history.
2. A personal admission: When I started this blog with the statement “My take”, I tried to set a standard of providing objective, dispassionate political commentary. Over time, I have not held firmly to that commitment. Even as I remained fact-based, sarcasm and emotionally charged language found their way into my output. There are conservatives who visit this site and doubtless found the immediate foregoing, offensive. To you, I apologize and will strive to do better.
This blog begins with, but then expanded upon, an analysis of just one relatively small but important aspect of conservatives’ ongoing attempt to tarnish the FBI, its former Director James Comey, and the Mueller investigation. The goal is to so discredit all three such that previous and future findings will not be viewed as credible by the public.
During a significant part of early 2016, HRC was under investigation by the FBI due to her unauthorized use of a private server and the possibility that in using that device, she might have received and/or sent out highly classified information. This was a legitimate probe inasmuch as national security may have been compromised.
The investigation was headed by then-FBI Director Comey, with Peter Strzok acting as his deputy assistant. Included in their efforts was an interview with HRC who was not put under oath, a matter that begs the question “Who was responsible for not swearing her in?” Was it Comey, Strzok or even someone else? To date, there has been no clear answer to that query. Still, it is a valid question because not being under oath, HRC had the opportunity to lie free of any danger of being charged with perjury. Did the candidate lie? We can’t answer that question because her testimony was not transcribed.
By mid-2016, the investigation had been concluded and Comey began the task of authoring a report that would reflect either HRC’s innocence or guilt. Examining the evidence, the director came to believe that in spite of HRC’s questionable if not outright careless behavior, a case could not be made that she acted with criminal intent. This was reflected in a draft Comey prepared, ending with his decision not to charge HRC.
A critical phrase
Note here that Comey had already decided on HRC’s innocence. But, that conclusion was at odds with a key phrase in the aforementioned draft; i.e. that HRC had acted with “gross negligence”, a phrase that carries with it the possibility of criminal charges. This is where Strzok’s involvement comes into question: He recommended altering that wording so that new verbiage would be consistent with his boss’s judgment of innocence.
Conservatives pounce !!
Once it was learned that Strzok was involved in the just cited editing, conservatives launched a narrative wherein, Strzok was depicted as a corrupt, HRC supporter who had changed a judgment of guilty by Comey to one of innocence. The problem here is that this conspiratorial thinking does not square with the fact that Comey had already come to his decision of HRC’s innocence before his deputy’s editing. Thus, it follows that what Strzok did was to bring the wording of the crucial phrase into line with his superior’s basic judgment. If there is any blame to be assessed here, it should fall on Comey for his poor phrase-choice. Whatever the case, it is significant that the amended draft was presented to the entire team of FBI investigators and approved unanimously. If there is a conspiracy here it would then have to involve all those individuals, not just Strzok.
Expanding the conservative narrative
The foregoing analysis might have gotten Strzok off the hook had he not been caught in a lengthy exchange of anti-Trump e-mails with a FBI associate. Conservatives took the man who was their “heavy” in the HRC matter and expanded his alleged connivance into what they now put forward as his role in a corrupt investigation of Trump/Russia collusion. Learning of his deputy’s texting, SP Mueller promptly removed him from the probe, doing so before anyone even knew of the biased communiques that went back and forth between Strzok and his colleague. That happened early this past year.
Flowing from all this history laid out here, there is this question: “Did Strzok’s admittedly biased view of Trump contaminate his work as an investigator on the SP’s team?” That is a reasonable question. But, what we get in conservative blogs and op-eds is the presumption that the answer is “yes!!”, the absence of evidence to that effect not worth mentioning.
Do not expect conservatives to abandon their now larger narrative. They are deeply committed to it and have done an exceptional job of selling it to folks who want to believe the worst, free of supportive evidence. It is a sad commentary on where we are as a supposedly well-educated, thoughtful nation.
Congressional Republicans and conservatives in general are over the moon; living a dream they never thought would become reality: They have control of both houses of Congress and the presidency. Even better, the man-child sitting in the Oval Office seems wholly disinterested in the tedium of developing policy details and actually governing. So, that gritty work has been left up to legislatures who surely are overjoyed that they get to craft bills largely free of Trump’s uninformed input.
To protect and defend
Given this just-described salubrious state of affairs, conservatives in and out of government have gone to great lengths to keep it intact. What follows are synopses of their efforts.
Trump’s tax returns: House Republicans (1) have passed over multiple opportunities to press 45 into releasing those documents. It is plausible to speculate that those same representatives have made the educated guess that the returns have something damning in them, otherwise, why has Trump gone to such great lengths and told such glaring lies to avoid making them public?
The attacks on former FBI Director James Comey
This is part of a larger effort to discredit the Bureau as an organization capable of conducting an impartial, credible investigation of any collusion between the Russians and Trump. How quickly the “worm” has turned. As recently as late October 2016, conservatives were singing Comey’s praises over his decision to re-open his probe into HRC’s e-mails, a cache of which was found among the electronic messages that passed between Huma Abedin and her then-husband, Anthony Weiner. Trump even noted that this took “guts”. But now, in the space of about 400 days, Comey has become a “bad cop”, filled with liberal bias that found expression in “get Trump” behavior.
The assault on SP Mueller and his team
As an extension of the preceding synopsis, there has been a frontal assault on the integrity of Mueller and his investigators. This was covered in a previous blog and can be reviewed as need be by those who are interested. It is worth noting that the blog in question did provoke some thoughtful criticism from a reader. His concerns were addressed in the “Comments” attached to the blog and thus are available for inspection.
The Steele “dossier”
The so-called “dossier” is actually a folderof about 30 pages of raw intelligence, some of which has been substantiated while other parts have neither been confirmed nor deconfirmed. Conservatives want no part of the former, preferring instead to trash the folder’s entire contents. Their favorite talking point is that it was commissioned by HRC and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), a claim that has already been disproven. (2) But even if that were not the case, collecting research on an opponent has been standard operating procedures in our politics. Certainly, Trump’s campaign was only too happy to get all those e-mails on the DNC that became available through a Wikileaks document-dump.
Not one bit of the foregoing should be surprising. Intent on hanging onto their near-absolute power, it figures that Republicans will do whatever they can to protect and defend Trump, even if that means committing errors of omission, distortion, obfuscation and character assassination, all to compromise an ongoing federal investigation into Trump/Russia collusion.
How far will this go?
Let us suppose that between now and the coming midterm election, SP Mueller comes forward with a case, the evidence of which, calls for Trump’s impeachment. The bet here is that unless that case is overwhelming, House Republicans will vote it down, even though such a move might well cost them dearly when the election does roll around sometime soon thereafter.
Let’s take the contents of the last paragraph a step further. Right now, there are legal experts who believe that a credible case for obstruction of justice can be put forward against 45. Why then has Mueller not done so? Here’s another bet that answers that question: The SP has witnessed the lengths to which congressional Republicans have gone in protecting and defending Trump, and has calculated that a solitary charge of obstruction won’t be sufficient to get them to drop that tack. So, he is in the process of building a stronger case; one that will compel support from even the most diehard among Trump supporters.
What might such a “stronger case” include? Follow the money from Russia to Deutsche Bank, to Trump, then back to Deutsche Bank and on to Russia. If you aren’t familiar with what “money laundering” involves, start reading up.
1. A notable and very recent example involved Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. In the crafting of the just passed tax bill, Brady was offered an amendment that, if passed, would have forced Trump to release his tax returns. Brady refused to even bring the amendment up for debate; it got “deep-sixed”.
2. The seed money for the Steele dossier came from an anti-Trump, Republican hedge fund manager named Singer.
In the last few days, the mainstream media (MSM) have lit up with a story that the Russian/meddling investigation got kick-started in mid-2016 thanks to some loose talk by George Papadoplous (P), a member of Trump’s team. Turns out that P was deep in his cups at a London wine bar when he told Alexander Downer, an Australian diplomat, that the Russians had collected “dirt” on HRC. Downer passed this raw intel onto authorities Down Under and in turn, they passed it on to the FBI . Note that this was in mid-2016 and well in advance of Trump having secured the GOP presidential nomination.
Once this story broke, the conservative media pushed back, first asserting that P was an insignificant member of Trump’s team; a “coffee boy” as it were”, and then following up with how the MSM got the story all wrong. The thrust here is not to settle who is right and who isn’t. That matters far less than the questions that are begged by P’s revelation. Consider…
Question: Is it possible that a lowly “coffee boy” is the only member of Team Trump who knew of Russia’s possession of “dirt”?
Question: How did P come by his knowledge?
Question: From whom did he receive that information?
Question: When did he receive it?
Question: Why did team Trump not promptly report on the Russian dirt collection to the FBI?
The very existence of these pertinent questions may explain why, out of a clear blue sky, an unheard-of like P, pops up as someone who has struck a plea deal with Mueller. Where the Hell did this supposed “nobody” come from and why did he suddenly become important?
What follows is speculative but plausible. Start with the key fact that P has been charged with lying under oath to the FBI, not the SP. Recall that it was the FBI that started the investigation into Russian dirt-gathering. It is possible that P fibbed about knowing what the Russians were up to, in order to protect team Trump, but then got caught by Mueller and offered a plea deal in exchange for answers to the five bold-faced questions cited above.
If this line of reasoning has any validity, then don’t be surprised if what P tells or has told the SP becomes pivotal in building or undercutting what Mueller is investigating; i.e. collusion between Trump and Russia. If P’s information supports a case involving criminality, then we have moved out of collusion and into conspiracy territory; a plotting that began months before Trump was even the Republican nominee. For P to have known about the Russian dirt way back in May of 2016 is a startling discovery.