Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sullivan on Trump and Russia

Andrew Sullivan comments on Trump and Russia in New York Magazine.


The question that remains, of course, is the motive.
Why on Earth would any campaign for president be in constant, secret touch with the intelligence agents of a hostile foreign power?
I cannot know. Maybe Flynn is a rogue loner. It’s also possible, I guess, that the Trump campaign just wanted to keep in touch with the intelligence services of one of this country’s nemeses, if only to wish them Merry Christmas — five times in one day. It’s also conceivable that Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort’s deep ties to the Putin regime were utterly irrelevant to the sudden amendment, this past summer, to the GOP party platform that removed a call to send arms to Ukraine. It’s also possible, I suppose, that deep down I’m straight.
But there’s one explanation that chills me even more than a foreign power’s potential blackmail over an American president. And it is that Trump and Putin are natural allies in their fight against the postwar, U.S.-led international order that has kept the peace for 70 years. Putin and Trump, after all, share a Bannonite foreign policy: a robust defense of nationalism; a view that NATO is obsolete; support for far-right parties throughout Europe; and the goal of smashing the European Union so that Russia can once again extend its tentacles into Eastern Europe, and the U.S. can play one European power off another. I have no idea if Putin has kompromat on the president, but Trump’s actions need no such motivation. Trump and Putin want to form a pincer movement to destroy what we have known for a long time as the West.
Their domestic politics also have disturbing parallels. Trump would love nothing more, it seems to me, than to be an American Putin, treating the country as he long treated his own corporate fiefdom. He once explained he admired the autocrat because Putin has “great control over his country.” Like Putin, Trump would love to control the media. Like Putin, he has developed a leadership cult, devoted to the masses. Like Putin, he believes in a government that has “killers.” Like Putin, he threatens his geographic neighbors. Like Putin, he has cultivated an alliance of convenience with reactionary religious conservatives, to shore up his power. Like Putin, he believes there’s no moral difference between American democracy and Russia’s. Like Putin, he is enriching himself by public office. And, like Putin, he has targeted a minority as a scapegoat — Putin targeted the gays to gin up support while Trump targets the Muslims and Mexicans. And as Putin has RT as his conduit, so Trump has the Murdoch empire.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ohio GOP Judge: Impeach Trump

Thirty year Ohio judge Mark Painter argues flr impeachment in USA Today.

The leader of the band of Mad Hatters occupying the White House has already insulted allied world leaders, issued illegal and badly written orders, impugned a “so-called” judge appointed by his own party, and appointed the least-qualified cabinet ever. The first secretary of state was Thomas Jefferson. Trump appointed a big-oil executive with close ties to Russia. The first treasury secretary was Alexander Hamilton. Trump appointed a former Goldman Sachs exec who got rich foreclosing on homeowners. The national security advisor lasted 24 days.
And all that’s just at the time I write this. Who knows what happens next. Each new day is a new nightmare. We are still trying to digest one breathtaking assault on America when another is signed, issued, or tweeted. All this amid constant lies. Constant. Lies.
I am a lifelong Republican. I voted for every Republican presidential candidate from 1968 to 2004. But I have watched what once was a sane, center-right party go off the rails, first to the extreme right, then to wherever Trump is, which is in another universe.
It’s tough, but we must end this dangerous presidency. Trump must be impeached and removed with all haste. But only Congress can initiate the process.
Our congressman, Steve Chabot, has been busy defending Trump from the media, which is simply reporting Trump’s machinations. It’s time for him to man up and start drafting the articles of impeachment. As I remember, he did it for Clinton for far less than Trump has already done.
After the election, many hoped that Trump would “grow up” into the job — that he couldn’t possibly be as bad as some thought. Well, it’s gone the other way. The bully has become a more entitled bully. Anyone disagreeing is attacked. Policy is announced in illiterate tweets.
Basic American values — free speech, the rule of law, separation of powers, even common decency — are unknown in this White House. We now have a president who has no concept of separation of powers, or why we have three branches of government. If he knew anything about the Constitution, he would know the framers envisioned just the situation we have now — a would-be dictator. They provided checks and balances — such as an independent judiciary to protect us from presidential tyranny.
Enabling a bully is always a mistake. As soon as the tweet on Nordstrom’s came out, I said that the Republicans would defend the indefensible, and their talking point would be “a father supporting his daughter.” It wasn’t an hour later that Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told CNN it “didn’t bother" him. But even Chaffetz had to choke when Kellyanne Conway urged people to buy Ivanka Trump’s shoes.
All the above bothers me and should appall all Americans. We must admit we have elected a president who has immediately proved himself to be a grifter, a pathological liar, a mean-spirited bully and dangerous to American values. This not-ready-for-prime-time show is too dangerous to continue. America is at stake.
If you need help drafting those articles of impeachment, Steve, I am available.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Will GOP Congress Act on Trump and Russia?

Former Bush speech-writer David Frum ponders what it will take in The Atlantic.

The immediate question raised by the latest information published by The New York Times is: What next? Will Congress investigate? Will it subpoena records, including the tax records that may clarify the financial obligations—if any—Donald Trump has to Russia? And since Congress is so dominated by one party, that first question raises a follow-up and more specific question: What will the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress do?

Remember, the Republican rank-and-file remain much more intensely committed to Trump and the presidency than to their leaders in Congress. Fox News and talk radio are busily concocting rationalizations and distractions. Donald Trump will still be president a week from now—and he has many tools by which to retaliate against his perceived opponents in the intelligence services. Unless Congress revolts against him, he could well prevail, destroying the integrity and independence of law enforcement and counter-intelligence in the process.


The warnings of January still hold in February: Nothing will happen automatically. There are no mechanisms, only people. The people in the spotlight right now are the Republican members of Congress.

It’s up to them whether a truly independent investigation occurs.

It’s up to them whether Americans receive an accurate statement of Trump’s financial ties and obligations to Russian entities.

It’s up to them whether the CIA and FBI are protected from the purge that those around Trump are already hinting he may be planning for his own self-preservation.

Will they this time act in the honorable way?

Here’s something to consider. Trump has never shown much enthusiasm for the congressional agenda of reforming Obamacare and reducing taxes. He has developed no plans, and his White House staff is not structured in a way likely to produce such plans anytime soon.

Without presidential leadership—and with the visible and traditional disagreements between House members who mostly hold safe seats, and senators vulnerable to state-wide electorates—it’s  hard to see how anything gets done in the next session. Congressional Republicans are now at risk of wasting this rare chance, risking an all-Republican government accomplishing nothing beside Trump’s self-aggrandizement and corrosion of constitutional government. That will suit Donald Trump fine. It can hardly suit Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.

Suppose Mike Pence were president now. Tax-reform legislation would be hitting the floor of the House. A competent White House staff, headed by people with intact reputations for honesty, would be hammering out the compromises necessary to repeal healthcare reform. A functional National Security Council would be generating options for responding to Russia’s cheating on arms-control treaties and aggression in Ukraine. Democrats and liberals would be assailing congressional Republicans on immigration and abortion—not espionage and treason. Instead, their hopes, their interests, their constituencies, and possibly their careers are all at risk, subordinated to the personal imperatives of a president who does not share their principles and does not care about their party.

Each member of Congress went into this line of work with some idea of serving their country. They do not yet know whether clandestine cooperation occurred between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. They do not know whether that clandestine cooperation continues now. Possibly Trump imagines that he is using Putin, rather than being used by him.

But what they do know is that Trump is doing damage to U.S. alliances and the U.S.-led global economic order. They know that he’s staffed his White House with disturbing personalities who do not seem to recognize or accept ordinary ethical norms. They hear from business leaders, foreign heads of government, and their own contacts in the defense and intelligence agencies that they are alarmed and frightened. They see the president of the United States behaving in ways no president should behave. They are partisan creatures, as they have to be in their line of work, but they have enough experience to appreciate that concerns don’t cease being valid just because they are raised by their Democratic colleagues. They must feel that their restraint on the president and the White House is the most important constitutional line of defense against presidential corruption—or worse. If they don’t act decisively now, when will they act? If this isn’t bad enough—what will be?

On Russia, Flynn Doesn't Matter, Trump Does

Josh Marshall balances appropriate skepticism of a wild sounding story with the need to investigate on Trump's ties to Russia on Talking Points Memo.

For all we've learned over recent days about retired General Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, it's overshadowed by much more that we do not know. Indeed, based on the current evidence we don't know whether Flynn's actions were just wildly inappropriate (undermining the current president's actions with a foreign adversary weeks before taking office) or part of a larger, darker design. Whether Flynn lied to the FBI (we don't know) or lied to his colleagues is an interesting legal and possibly political question. But again, they are relatively straightforward matters which only become truly significant in terms of the bigger picture, if there is one. The truth is Michael Flynn does not matter. We have before us a question that has stood before us, centerstage, for something like a year, brazen and shameless and yet too baffling and incredible to believe: Donald Trump's bizarre and unexplained relationship with Russia and its strongman Vladimir Putin.

It is almost beyond imagining that a National Security Advisor could be forced to resign amidst a counter-intelligence investigation into his communications and ties to a foreign adversary. The National Security Advisor is unique in the national security apparatus. He or she is the organizer, synthesizer and conduit to the President for information from all the various agencies and departments with a role in national security. This person must be able to know everything. The power and trust accorded this person are immeasurable. It is only really comparable to the President. And yet, we are talking about the President. A staffer or appointee can be dismissed. The President is the ultimate constitutional officer.

For all that I've been associated with scrutiny of the President's ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia, I've always been skeptical of the maximal claims and arguments. Indeed, I've been skeptical of the whole idea. All the claims about Trump and Russia rely on suppositions which are unproven and hard evidence we don't have. But the circumstantial evidence, the unexplained actions, the unheard of spectacle of a foreign power subverting a US election while the beneficiary of the interference aggressively and openly makes the case for the culprit, the refusal to make even the most elementary forms of disclosure which could clarify the President's financial ties - they are so multifaceted and abundant it is almost impossible to believe they are mere random and chance occurrences with no real set of connections behind them.

Step back for a second and look at this. While certainties are hard to come by, it seems clear that Russia broke into computer networks and selectively released private emails to damage Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. When President Obama took a series of actions to punish the Russian government for this interference, President-Elect Trump's top foreign policy advisor made a series of calls to the Russian government's representative in the United States to ask him to have his government refrain from retaliation and suggested that the punishments could be lifted once the new government was sworn in. Then he lied about the calls both publicly and apparently within the White House. What has gotten lost in this discussion is that these questionable calls were aimed at blunting the punishment meted out for the election interference that helped Donald Trump become President. This is mind-boggling.

Consider another point.

Through the course of the campaign, transition and presidency, three top Trump advisors and staffers have had to resign because of issues tied to Russia. Paul Manafort, Carter Page and now Michael Flynn. Page might arguably be termed a secondary figure. Manafort ran Trump's campaign and Flynn was his top foreign policy advisor for a year. The one common denominator between all these events, all these men is one person: Donald Trump.

As I said above, this has all been happening before our eyes, the train of inexplicable actions, the unaccountable ties and monetary connections, the willful, almost inexplicable need to make the case for Vladimir Putin even when the President knows the suspicion he's under. When I was writing my first post on this topic more than 6 months ago, I had the uncanny feeling of finding what I was writing impossible to believe as I wrote it. And yet, I would go through the list of unexplained occurrences and actions, clear business and political connections, sycophantic support and more and realize there was too much evidence to ignore. It was fantastical and yet in plain sight.

That's where we still are. There is a huge amount we don't know. We don't know the big answers. But to use the language of the criminal law, there's probable cause to have a real investigation. Not a rush to judgment, but an investigation. This has been in front of us for months. It may gratify Democrats as partisans to see an entire political party be suborned by a President under a cloud of doubt. But it is horrible for the country. There is so much smoke that you could choke on it. It's time to find out what Donald Trump's relationship is to Russia, his and his associates' contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, whatever business ties there might be. If you were Vladimir Putin you could not have done more to help the cause of Donald Trump. And if you were Trump, you could not have done more in actions and statements to repay the favor. The only question is whether the trajectory of perfectly interlocked actions were simply chance or tacit. Is it even remotely credible that with everything that led up to it, Michael Flynn initiated and conducted this back channel on his own? Hardly. It's crazy that we're having this conversation about a sitting President. But here we are. It's time. We need to know the answer to this question.