Monday, May 22, 2017

Should Psychiatrists Speak Out Against Trump?

A protest against Donald Trump in Hong Kong. (photo: Vincent Yu/AP)
A protest against Donald Trump in Hong Kong. (photo: Vincent Yu/AP)

By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
21 May 17

The “Goldwater Rule” forbids mental-health professionals to give opinions on public figures they haven’t personally examined. Some may make an exception.
hen Donald Trump accused his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping him, James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, told colleagues that he considered Trump to be “outside the realm of normal,” and even “crazy.” Many Americans share this view, but the professionals who are best qualified to make such an assessment have been forced to remain mum.

“I’m struggling not to discuss He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” a psychiatrist named Jerrold Post said last week, speaking on the phone from his office, in Bethesda, Maryland. Post, who is the director of the political-psychology program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and the founder of the C.I.A.’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, has made a career of political-personality profiling. However, he is also a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, whose professional code of conduct forbids members to publicly comment on the psyches of living public figures whom they have not personally examined.

The ban, known as “the Goldwater rule,” is the legacy of an embarrassing episode from 1964. That year, Fact magazine published a petition signed by more than a thousand psychiatrists, which declared that Barry Goldwater, who was then the Republican Presidential nominee, was “psychologically unfit to be President.” Goldwater lost the election, but he won a libel suit against the magazine. The bad publicity seriously tarnished the reputation of the profession.

More than fifty years later, Trump appears to be testing the limits of the Goldwater rule. In March, the Washington, D.C., branch of the A.P.A. convened a meeting of its members to debate the rule. Post and several others argued that, given the President’s erratic behavior, the organization was infringing on its members’ freedom of expression. Psychiatrists, they insisted, have a responsibility to serve society at large. “I think there’s a duty to warn,” Post said. “Serious questions have been raised about the temperament and suitability of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” He added, “It seems unethical to not contribute at this perilous time.”

The psychiatrist John Zinner took the argument further, suggesting that, as doctors, who swear an oath to protect their patients, psychiatrists have an obligation to speak out about the menace posed by Trump’s mental health. “It’s my view that Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder,” Zinner said later. “Trump is deluded and compulsive. He has no conscience.” He said that psychiatrists have a constructive role to play in advising policymakers to add checks on the President’s control over nuclear weapons. “That supersedes the Goldwater rule,” he said. “It’s an existential survival issue.” (There were some dissenters at the meeting. Dr. Mark Komrad, who is on the staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Sheppard Pratt Health System, worried that overturning the rule could be bad for the profession. “We’re already seen as peddlers of a liberal world view,” he said. “If we make pronouncements about Donald Trump, nothing is gained. You don’t need a doctor to tell you that the guy on the plane with a hacking cough is sick.”)

Post is part of a push to have the A.P.A. form a commission to revisit the Goldwater rule. He’ll make the argument to a larger audience later this month, at the association’s annual meeting, in San Diego. Meanwhile, the President’s sudden firing of Comey presented an almost irresistible case study.

Post, when asked about the firing, chose his words carefully. He said he agreed with lay commentators that Trump appeared to be trying to suppress the F.B.I.’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, revealing a pattern—a quickness to get rid of those who disagreed with or threatened him. The result, Post said, would be “a sycophantic leadership circle afraid to question him.” He added that the manner of the firing, which Comey learned about from TV reports, displayed “a failure of judgment in crisis”; it was likely to turn Comey into “a dangerous and resentful witness.” Post said that it reminded him of other leaders he had studied, including Vladimir Putin, “a quintessential narcissist,” whose “way of handling criticism is to eliminate—literally—the critics.” After the Comey episode, Post said, he worried that “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s leadership is imploding.”

What would Post ask Trump, if he had the opportunity to get the President on his couch? Post cleared his throat and said, “I’m sorry, but I think I’d better not answer that.”

The question reminded him of the time, during a television interview, that Dan Rather asked him what he would do if he encountered Saddam Hussein. Not realizing that the microphone was turned on, Post, who had been discussing Saddam’s “malignant narcissism,” gave a less than scholarly answer: “I would run right out of the office!”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Paul Ryan tries to deflect on leak that implicates him in a Russia cover-up

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01:  President Donald Trump (2nd R) hosts Office of Managment and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (L) and Republican Congressional leaders (2nd L-R) Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and others during a working lunch in the Roosevelt Room at the White House March 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. The meeting comes the day after Trump layed out his policy priorities during a joint session of Congress.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
They all knew.
Speaker Paul Ryan is trying out the Trump regime's favorite defense against damning news—focus on the leaker rather than on the content. In this case, it's the release of a transcript with a slip of the tongue from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy about Donald Trump being on Vladimir Putin's payroll, a "joke" that Ryan immediately threatened all of those present to forget ever happened. Ryan is in full deflection mode trying to cover up what he and others in Republican leadership—we're looking at you, Mitch McConnell—knew about Russia's interference in the election on behalf of Trump and when they knew it.
Friday morning, Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that the recording was “a cause of concern” for him and other Republicans. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” the speaker said. “There was somebody who taped a meeting a year ago where our majority leader cracked a joke and then they released the tape of that joke out just a few days ago and that’s a pretty bizarre thing to happen. So obviously that’s a cause of concern of ours.”
He's never seen anything like this? How about watching the Russians hacking the DNC, getting a briefing from the Ukrainian prime minister which detailed the attacks and the sophisticated propaganda Russia was conducting against it and other European nations, and then brushing off the suggestion that Putin was controlling the possible Republican presidential nominee? That's pretty bizarre and unimaginable. And that's exactly what happened.

But let's not let Ryan and McConnell off that easy, because that private June meeting the transcript is from isn't the first time Ryan heard about any of this stuff.
  • A full year before this meeting, in the summer of 2015, congressional leaders including McConnell and Ryan's predecessor John Boehner were briefed on Russian hacking attempts on the DNC. It strains credulity to believe Ryan wasn't read into these details when he took over as speaker. 
  • On June 15, 2016, the news broke in the Washington Post and the whole world found out what leadership already knew—that the Russians had hacked the DNC. 
  • On June 16, 2016, McCarthy makes his "joke." A "joke" Ryan responded to immediately by telling the group "No leaks … This is how we know we're a real family here."
  • In August 2016 Ryan and McConnell got a series of "urgent, individual" briefings from CIA Director John Brennan, informing them that Russia was working to help elect Donald Trump.
  • In September 2016 the "Gang of 12"—Senate, House, and congressional intelligence committee leaders—were briefed by the intelligence community about Russian interference in the election. This is when McConnell jumped in to voice doubts about the intelligence presented and to squelch it. With no objection from Ryan.
He’s never seen anything like a meeting being secretly recorded? How about a hostile foreign power hijacking and American election? 

Ryan and McConnell knew full well going into the election process—including the primaries—that Russia was getting involved in this election. They knew when Trump received the nomination that Russia was working to get him elected. Ryan oversaw the Republican National Convention where the one thing the Trump campaign insisted on being in the platform was a softening of the party's stance on helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia. 

None of this is a joke, and since that Ryan's deflection trying to push this off on the leaker? That's bullshit. He's up to his eyeballs in this.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Felony Charges Against Inauguration Protesters Represent 'Historic Crossroads'

Over 200 people were arrested in Washington, DC, on the morning of January 20, 2017. (photo: Andrew Stefan/RSN)
Over 200 people were arrested in Washington, DC, on the morning of January 20, 2017. (photo: Andrew Stefan/RSN)

By Mark Hand, ThinkProgress
20 May 17

Legal experts say Trump’s ‘law-and-order’ administration is emboldening authorities to crack down on protests in D.C. and beyond.

ith multiple felony charges brought against more than 200 people on Inauguration Day, police and prosecutors in the District of Columbia are putting activists on notice that legal protections ingrained in the Constitution may not apply to them, according to legal experts.

This new era of law enforcement is affecting policing tactics beyond Washington. The harsh treatment of protesters in the District since Donald Trump assumed the presidency — with a large number of people who did not engage in violence facing decades in prison for simply taking part in a protest — lets law enforcement officials across the nation know that a tough-on-dissent policy is acceptable, the experts said.

“The federal prosecutor’s office in D.C., by the influence and directives of the Sessions Justice Department, is now engaged in an all-out repression of dissent and sending the message across the country that we are going to crush you,” said Jason Flores-Williams, an attorney who is representing three people who were arrested in Washington on Inauguration Day.

Shortly after Trump took the oath of office on January 20, the official White House website published statements outlining the new president’s six top priorities, including one titled “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” The White House page explaining this priority said Trump’s administration “will be a law-and-order administration,” committed to ending the “dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, issued a memorandum last week in which he directed federal prosecutors across the country to charge suspects with the most serious offense they can prove. The memo was seen as a reversal of President Barack Obama’s policy shift toward fewer mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and a rethinking of how people charged with non-violent drug crimes are prosecuted and sentenced.

The memo also aligns with how the Justice Department is ratcheting up its prosecution of protesters and could serve as a guide for how state and local jurisdictions treat expressions of dissent, according to Flores-Williams. “Under the Sessions DOJ, states are going to have carte blanche to pass whatever local ordinances they want to eliminate, outlaw, and make protests extremely difficult,” he told ThinkProgress.

As the nation’s capital, “the District is a microcosm of what’s happening outside in the world at large,” said Ria Thompson-Washington, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. Police in other parts of the country will take their cues from how the police in Washington act. If police in the nation’s capital are assuming an increasingly hard line stance against protesters, other jurisdictions will follow suit, she said.

“What I’ve seen is that police are feeling more empowered by the current administration,” she said.

States and localities are already passing measures to deter or prepare for protest activities. Individuals opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota faced fierce attacks from police. In reaction to these protests and other actions against the fossil fuel industry, the state of Oklahoma adopted a measure designed to suppress protests.

Under the Oklahoma law, individuals will face a felony and a minimum $10,000 fine if a court determines they entered property intending to damage, vandalize, deface, “impede or inhibit operations of the facility.” The statute also targets any organization “found to be a conspirator” with the trespasser, threatening these groups with a fine “10 times” that imposed on the intruder, or as much as $1 million.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican state lawmaker invited North Dakota law enforcement representatives to provide lessons learned from the Dakota Access protests to government officials in Lancaster County, where a large movement has grown against construction of the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline.

The same state lawmaker is drafting a bill that would make people convicted of “rioting or public nuisance” pick up the tab for policing and other public costs from protests in the state.

In February, the Washington Post reported that since the election of Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states had introduced or voted on legislation similar to the Pennsylvania proposal that would increase punishments for protesters.

The police tab for Inauguration Day in Washington was huge, with estimates totaling $100 million. Officers from various federal police agencies, as well as National Guard members, joined a large number of militarized city police officers to patrol downtown D.C.

A portion of the inauguration security funds were spent on a wide array of weapons, many of them similar to the ones used against Dakota Access Pipeline protests a few months earlier. For several hours, D.C. police fired pepper spray, tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets on people gathered in the streets, giving it the look and feel of a war zone.

The vast majority of these people in the streets of Washington were not involved in smashing the windows of coffee shops or banks. And yet D.C. police still rounded up people indiscriminately, including more than a handful of journalists and legal observers, and arrested them.

The police corralling of the 200-plus people occurred well over an hour before a limousine was set on fire approximately four blocks away. The people spent the night in jail, with the bulk of them initially facing felony rioting charges that carry a possible penalty of 10 years in prison.

The D.C. police used a similar mass roundup tactic at 2002 World Bank protests in a downtown park. The District of Columbia ended up settling with nearly 400 protesters and bystanders — who sued over the mass arrests — for more than $8 million.

But this time, the police, along with prosecutors, are not backing off from their handling of the protests. “For the District, I have genuine concerns about the number of people who will be embroiled in litigation with regard to just exercising their First Amendment right to protest,” Thompson-Washington said.

The new policing doctrine in Washington represents an effort by the Trump administration to “chill” a citizen’s right to engage in protest, Flores-Williams said. “They’re prosecuting people for their associations, which violates the First Amendment,” he argued.

Civil liberties activists are concerned by the lack of media attention — what Flores-Williams views as “radio silence” — on the multiple felony charges brought against the Inauguration Day protesters in Washington. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog group, said the lack of media coverage of the federal prosecutors’ conduct “seems to be what’s holding together the government’s case for felony riot charges against some 214 people arrested en masse on Inauguration Day.”

Federal prosecutors dropped most of the charges against the journalists. But in a surprise move, the prosecutors in April, without providing any new evidence, filed new charges — what is known as a superseding indictment — against the protesters that included felony “inciting or urging to riot,” “rioting,” “conspiracy to riot,” “destruction of property,” and misdemeanor “assault on a police officer.”

The large group of people rounded up by D.C. police, or “kettled,” are now being hit with up to eight felonies and could end up facing up to 75 years in prison.

“Once that superseding indictment was issued, it was an historic crossroads moment,” Flores-Williams said. “If you’ve looked at what they’ve done, from the police all the way up to the prosecutor, this is a systematic attack on the First Amendment rights of these people at a time when the First Amendment couldn’t be more important.”

The protesters will have plenty of time to think about the extensive charges filed against them — and perhaps that is the prosecutors’ intention. The first trials are not expected to start until March 2018. “In my mind, that violates their right to a speedy trial,” Flores-Williams said.

“Having serious felonies like this hanging over you is an incredible burden on your life,” he said. “Chances are that at a certain point, they’ll either roll on each other or we’ll see plea agreements regardless of their guilt or innocence.”

However, many of the defendants have pledged to reject any plea deal offered by prosecutors. In a statement outlining the pledge, the defendants said: “The risk of imprisonment, fines, and probation is far less meaningful than giving even tacit legitimacy to these charges.”

Flores-Williams’ clients have no intention of accepting any possible plea deal. And he expressed great confidence his clients will prevail at a trial. “The government is going to have a hard time proving what they need to,” he said.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Articles of Impeachment for Donald J. Trump

Even if Republicans won’t act, Democrats, like House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, should make their intentions clear. (photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Even if Republicans won’t act, Democrats, like House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, should make their intentions clear. (photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

By Phillip Carter, Slate
A first draft of an impeachment bill for the president.

he framers of our Constitution likely never imagined a President like Donald J. Trump. And yet, they inserted impeachment provisions into the original text of the Constitution, some 230 years ago, to empower Congress to act in case a rube, tyrant, or criminal came to occupy the nation’s highest office.

It’s not crystal clear which Trump might be, but the president’s latest outrageous actions—the reported passing of highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office—should awake Republicans and Democrats in Congress to the dangers posed by Trump to the nation in case that wasn’t already obvious. His conduct now goes far beyond mere offense or incitement to constitute actual damage to U.S. national security, the very definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” contemplated by the men who crafted the Constitution’s impeachment clauses. With this latest act, the time has come to commence the slow, deliberate process of demonstrating that Trump needs to be removed from office so he can harm the nation no more. A broad congressional inquiry should begin immediately, to inform drafters who will prepare articles of impeachment for consideration by the House and Senate.

While Republican control of Congress means that such proceedings won’t occur anytime soon, it’s clear that they are warranted. We don’t yet know for certain what precisely such an investigation would yield, but there is enough public information already available to roughly map out what such articles of impeachment might—and probably should—look like.

Historically, impeachment articles have focused on broad violations of constitutional duty and specific discrete acts like clashing with Congress over Reconstruction, commanding the Watergate break-in, or testimonial perjury. In Trump’s case, there is ample evidence for both the more general violations and the more specific abuses, much of them admitted by the president through his own indelicate tweets (including admissions Tuesday morning regarding the passing of classified information to the Russians).

So what might an impeachment bill against President Trump include?

The Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton impeachment bills used common language to put their specific violations in context. Any Trump articles of impeachment should also include such language at the start of each article:
In his conduct while president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has engaged in conduct that resulted in misuse and abuse of his high office:
Beyond this preamble, the Trump impeachment bill might include, but not be limited to, the following articles: 

Article 1: Compromising the integrity of the presidency through continuing violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. From his first day in office, Trump’s continuing stake in Trump Organization businesses has violated the clause of the Constitution proscribing federal officials from receiving foreign payments. The true and full extent of Trump’s conflicts of interest remains unknown. For his part, Trump has transferred day-to-day control over these interests to his adult children and the management of the Trump Organization. However, he remains the ultimate beneficiary for these businesses, so the fundamental conflict of interest remains.

These foreign business ties violate both the letter and spirit of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and arguably provide the clearest basis for impeachment based on the facts and law. 

Article 2: Violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the duties of his office by disregarding U.S. interests and pursuing the interests of a hostile foreign power, to wit, Russia. L’affaire Russia began during Trump’s campaign for the presidency, during which several top aides reportedly had contacts with Russia and its intelligence service. His campaign manager also had reportedly worked either directly or indirectly for the Kremlin. These contacts continued, famously, into the presidential transition, when the president’s chosen national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had his ill-fated contacts with Russia. Beyond these contacts, Trump has substantively acted in myriad ways that benefit Russia, including dangerous diplomacy that has reportedly frayed relationships with our allies and allegedly put allied intelligence assets at risk. By offering classified information to the Russians, it was reported that Trump risked the intelligence assets of a Middle Eastern ally that already warned American officials that it would stop sharing such information with America if that information was shared too widely. In risking that relationship, Trump has opened up the possibility for the loss of that information stream for combatting terrorism, and potentially put American lives at risk from the loss of intelligence that could inform officials about future attacks on Americans at home and abroad. 

Article 3: Impairment and obstruction of inquiries by the Justice Department and Congress into the extent of the Trump administration’s conflicts of interests and Russia ties. The Trump administration has systematically impeded, avoided, or obstructed the machinery of justice to obscure its business relationships, its Russia ties, and the forces acting within the Trump White House to animate policy. The most egregious and visible examples have been Trump’s firings of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey. [Update, 6:18 p.m.: The New York Times reported on Tuesday afternoon on an even more egregious case of apparent obstruction of justice, wherein Trump allegedly directly asked Comey to end the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn.] Each termination had what appeared to be a lawful pretext; subsequent statements or admissions have indicated each had more to do with obstructing justice than holding leaders accountable. Alongside these sackings, the Trump administration has also worked to starve Justice Department inquiries of resources and refocus investigators on suspected leaks instead of the White House’s own Russia intrigues. The Trump administration also interfered with congressional inquiries through attempting to block witnesses like Yates from appearing or selective leaking of classified information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, compromising Nunes so badly he had to recuse himself from the matter. 

Article 4: Undermining of the American judicial system through felonious intimidation of potential witnesses. In his desire to continue Comey’s public humiliation, and ensure Comey remained silent about Trump’s possible sins, the president threatened Comey on Twitter with disclosure of “tapes” of their conversations. This follows a pattern of Trump roughly treating witnesses and litigation adversaries that stretches back for decades before his presidency. Since taking office, Trump has also used the bully pulpit of his office to threaten intelligence officials for purported leaks and badger former Yates before her congressional testimony. In addition to falling beneath the dignity of the presidency, these verbal assaults also constitute obstruction of justice, prohibited by federal statutes on witness intimidation, retaliation against a witness, and obstruction of federal proceedings. These attacks don’t just harm the individuals who are targeted; they assault and undermine the rule of law. As such, they constitute further grounds for impeachment of Trump and his removal from the presidency. 

Article 5: Undermining of his office and the Constitution through repeated assaults on the integrity of the federal judiciary and its officers. During the presidential campaign, Trump publicly attacked federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his ethnicity, saying Curiel had been “extremely hostile to (Trump),” and that the judge had ruled against Trump because of his “Mexican heritage.” Since taking office, Trump has continued his unpresidential assaults on the federal judiciary, particularly after repeatedly losing court battles over his travel bans. At one point, he described a member of the bench as a “so-called judge,” undermining the premise of an independent judiciary. These statements also undermined both the dignity and power of the presidency, and threaten the rule of law by attacking the integrity of the federal judiciary. 

Article 6: Demeaning the integrity of government and its public servants, particularly the military and intelligence agencies, in contravention of his constitutional duties to serve as chief executive and commander in chief of the armed forces. Trump swept into office with considerable disdain for the government and its military. Indeed, during his campaign, he insulted former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, and Gold Star families; criticized the military for its performance in Iraq; and said today’s generals and admirals had been “reduced to rubble” during the Obama administration. Trump carried this disdain into the presidency, through his attacks on the “deep state” of military and intelligence officials that he believed to be obstructing his agenda. He also demeaned the military and its apolitical ethos through use of military fora and audiences as public spectacle—first to sign his immigration order in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, and then to deliver rambling speeches at military and intelligence headquarters suggesting that pro-Trump elements in those agencies were grateful Trump had taken power. Trump has also continued to wage political war against his intelligence community, suggesting as recently as Tuesday morning that it was sabotaging his administration through leaking and other nefarious activities. In doing these things, Trump has undermined his constitutional office as president and commander in chief of the armed forces. 

Article 7: Dereliction of his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of president by failing to timely appoint officers of the United States to administer the nation’s federal agencies. Shortly after taking office, Trump administration strategist Stephen Bannon articulated his plan for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” During its first four months in office, the Trump administration’s neglect of governance illustrates how this strategy is to be executed: delay of political appointments, failure to reach budget agreements with Congress in a timely manner, and deliberate neglect of governance and government operations. These actions and failures risk the health, welfare, and security of the nation, and represent a dereliction of Trump’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of the presidency.

Any one of the offenses above could constitute the basis for rigorous investigation of the Trump White House and its failures. Together, the totality of Trump’s malfeasance—once proven after a rigorous investigation—would likely make clear that he “warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States,” to quote from the bill of impeachment passed against President Clinton.

The time has come for Congress to act and for leaders on both sides of the aisle to put country before party and politics. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ought to, in cooperation with Democratic leaders, begin the sequence of events that would likely lead to impeachment and removal proceedings for Trump.

Given that this is unlikely, Democrats should make clear of their intentions to do what is necessary under our Constitution should they win back control of the House of Representatives in 2018. This process should be as full, fair, and transparent as our Constitution requires. Anything less would demean and harm the country even more than Trump has already done.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

And Then the Dam Broke

Dan Rather. (photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Dan Rather. (photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
By Dan Rather, Dan Rather's Facebook Page
18 May 17
flood is coming that will shape the future of our Republic in ways no one can predict. Except that the speed with which this has all happened, just over a hundred days into President Donald Trump's dumpster fire of an administration, means it was all very predictable. And no one who played a role in normalizing this President should be allowed to forget it.

We have news that the Department of Justice, under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will appoint a Special Counsel to investigate the Russia interference scandal. Apparently the President was only given a 30 minute heads up, and it came while he was interviewing new heads for the FBI. The Special Counsel will be former FBI Director Robert Mueller. These types of investigations tend to stir up more dirt than anyone thought was there. We will see if that happens now.

The stock market plummets. The White House staff is in chaos. The chorus of Republicans suddenly eager to be on the right side of history gets louder. Most of the time Washington moves in slow motion - except when it doesn't. And this moment is one of those times. We are living in a news cycle that can be measured in nanoseconds.

And amidst the news, another blockbuster report by the Washington Post. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy apparently said last June that he thought Putin pays Trump. At which point Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who was also there, stopped the conversation and swore those who were present to secrecy. When the Post asked about the incident, spokesmen for both representatives denied the story on the record. When they were informed that the Post reporters had heard a tape of the exchange, they changed their tune - saying it was a joke.

What all this makes clear is that the concerns which now threaten the integrity of our government were well known and played for cynical theater. Well, the curtain may be coming down on this act of this tragedy. New actors wait to take the stage for a drama for which the script is yet to be written.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Trump and the Fraternal Order of Exclusivity

Garrison Keillor. (photo: WPPB)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: WPPB)
By Garrison Keillor, The Washington Post
or all the fireworks of the French election, please note that Marine Le Pen gave a simple, elegant concession speech, congratulating the winner and thanking her supporters and campaign workers. She did not claim voter fraud or a media conspiracy or accuse the government of tapping her phone. She is, after all, French. Liberty, equality, dignity.

And so our country, the land of the Pilgrims’ pride where our fathers died, remains No. 1 in blithering tastelessness, naked self-promotion and delusional hypocrisy, thanks to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and James Comey. North Korea is a close No. 2, followed by Sudan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, the Ku Klux Klan, the Fall of Man and the Republican health-care plan.

That was a remarkable photo, Republicans on the White House lawn celebrating the House passage of a bucket of horsefeathers. It looked like the Kappa Delts gathered at the country club for the Eight-Ball Roll-’Em and Martini Scramble. Actually it was the D-minus students collecting a pile of partial term papers regurgitated by dogs and sending them to the Senate to be made into something coherent and perhaps defensible. As the man said, nobody knew health care could be so complicated. Good luck, Sen. McConnell! Take your time! Read the whole thing!

Senate approval is an archaic legal requirement — so much easier to simply write an executive order stating that everyone gets the care they need, preexisting conditions or not, a beautiful deal for less money, and let’s move on to something else. Sign another order that cancer has been cured — that would pay for everything.

This guy is in love with the executive order. It’s his idea of a selfie. He sits at his bare desk, grinning, holding up the two-page large-print document with his big bold signature, in a nice leather binding like an Award for Meritorious Achievement from the Federation of Organizations, his smiley vice president looking over his shoulder, a select group of happy citizens clapping. Last week, he signed one assuring ministers of freedom of speech in the pulpit. Next week maybe he’ll order ladybugs to fly away home, their house is on fire, their children are gone.

What is so remarkable this spring, as we all wait for the next shoe to drop, is how completely the Republican virtues we grew up admiring — caution, respect for history, attention to the fine print — have been thrown to the winds, and the party has united behind an aging New York playboy with no fixed principles except an insatiable urge to be on the front page every single day, including weekends and holidays. It would be like the Democratic Party electing Big Bird and applauding whatever comes out of his big beak.

Big Bird is a costume. There is a person inside it. He says what is in the script. But if he says whatever is going through his mind and starts ranting about conspiracies and TV ratings and the Civil War (how come?), you have a Big Turkey for a leader.

Some people might think it edgy and cool to have an eight-foot president covered with yellow feathers, but I believe that most Democrats would not go along with this, even those who feel the party has gone elitist and needs to regain the common touch.

The American people do not wish their president to be on the front page every single day, especially not for saying stupid stuff. They would prefer government to be effective, functional, honest, rational — in other words, boring. Think of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. You want it to operate quietly without drawing attention to itself. You don’t want to read in the paper that when you hold a $20 bill up to ultraviolet light now, it says “Invest Kushner” with a blinking 800 number. Same with the National Park Service. We don’t need to sell ad space on the foreheads at Mount Rushmore. The U.S. Coast Guard is a fine operation, if you ask me. Ditto the Federal Aviation Administration, and so is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — imagine the complexity of it, administering the oceans and the atmosphere — and yet it goes about its mission without fuss. The White House could write up an executive order — “Let the waves be still, let the tides not encroach upon Mar-a-Lago” — but NOAA would simply build an ark for the president and life would go on as before. And that is the whole point.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

FBI Agents Worry Trump Will Kneecap Russia Probe

The FBI is concerned about the implications of the Comey firing. (photo: Elizabeth Brockway/Daily Beast)
The FBI is concerned about the implications of the Comey firing. (photo: Elizabeth Brockway/Daily Beast)

By Betsy Woodruff and Jana Winter, The Daily Beast
The acting FBI director may promise that the investigation into Trump-Russia connections will continue. Many agents aren’t buying it.
“The Orange blob in the WH doesn’t care about anyone or anything he can’t control”

n Tuesday night, after James Comey got fired, FBI agents tasked with thwarting Russian intelligence operations started drinking.

Two well-connected former FBI employees told The Daily Beast that counterintelligence agents working on the Russian counterintelligence program out of FBI headquarters in downtown Washington met for drinks in the hours after their boss’s firing and shared their concerns: that they would be reassigned elsewhere, and their work on the Russian-Trump associates investigation would come to a grinding halt.

“We do not have any comment,” an FBI spokeswoman said in an email to The Daily Beast Friday morning.

These are worries that have spread through the bureau in the days since Comey was fired: that the new administration will find ways to stymie investigations that could create political problems—especially on Russia. It’s a concern the president himself exacerbated in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt that aired Thursday evening.

“And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,’” the president said, discussing his reasoning for firing Comey.

Among current and former agents who worked on Russian counterintelligence, concern about political meddling is palpable.

“It’s complete bananas,” said one FBI source. “Management in counterintelligence are insanely concerned, worried about the overreaching obstruction and political influence from the White House.”

And a former high-ranking FBI official who worked on aspects of the case said there’s “no doubt the investigation can be damaged.”

“This particular case is within HQ with pieces in other field offices,” the source continued. “Hard to stop, but definitely subvert.”

The pace of the FBI’s Russian counterintelligence investigation dramatically picked in recent weeks when the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn expanded to include his company’s work for the Turkish government, and a round of subpoenas were issued by a Virginia grand jury for related business and financial records. This stems from reports out of Turkey that Flynn had at some point attempted to return money he was paid for work he didn’t end up doing. That gave investigators a money trail to follow. Flynn reportedly failed to disclose this income when he was employed by the White House.

Two sources suggested that aspects of the larger investigation are focused on whether foreign influence was or is currently being exerted at the White House. It is unclear if this is specifically related to Flynn, or other aspects or targets of the case.

“It is not just a historical investigation,” said one former intelligence official who worked aspects of the early stages of the investigation. 

Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s interim director, told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning that nothing would stop the investigation. But his confidence didn’t calm many nerves, in large part because there’s a broad consensus in Washington that his days at the bureau are numbered.

In that same hearing, McCabe praised Comey and directly contradicted a White House spokesperson’s assertion that the FBI rank-and-file had turned on their former boss.

“Literally who cares, nothing he said matters. He’ll be gone,” said one congressional staffer.

McCabe isn’t the only top FBI official who could be in trouble.

Several administration sources said Associate Deputy Director David Bowdich could also be in the crosshairs. Sources said he has played an integral role in the investigation that led to the resignation of Flynn. That investigation is ongoing. The FBI website says Bowdich oversees the management of all FBI personnel and budgeting. So if he’s replaced, that could have a significant effect on the resources available to agents working on the Russia investigation.

The FBI declined to comment.

And it’s not just Bowdich. As FBI director, Robert Mueller changed the structure of the bureau’s leadership, adding outside non-agent, non-bureau personnel into the FBI at the rank of assistant director. These became mostly administrative positions, though some had joint oversight of counterintelligence operations. Comey continued this tradition. Sources said Trump could replace people in those positions with his loyalists, who could could slow the investigation.

The larger temporary task force investigating Russian influence investigation could soon be gone, according to a former FBI official.

They could “dismantle it, transfer the agents out, minimally staff it, have DOJ refuse to prosecute,” that official said.

“They could slow down the investigations to a crawl, prevent charges from moving forward to DOJ for prosecution, or any other number of ways the White House could subvert these investigations,” said a former FBI official who worked on Russian investigations.

“You have to remember, these agents have families they need to support,” said a former high ranking FBI official who worked closely with the Counterintelligence division. “The threat of being fired for doing their job is real here.”

And Comey’s firing could have already had an impact, according to Carrie Cordero, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“On a really major, highly sensitive, big big big-time case, it does matter the level of the director’s personal involvement,” she said. “It just does.”

And Comey’s support mattered.

“He gave the agents, the investigators, cover politically,” she said. “He said, ‘You go where the facts take you and I will handle the politics of it, I’ll go brief the Hill, I’ll hold off the White House.’ He’s the lineman in football, keeping everybody away from the guys that are trying to run or make the pass. He provided a cover for them to do what they needed to get done.”

Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division before his retirement, said the agency could also hit snags at the Justice Department, where the White House’s political appointees will have more sway.

“There are often frustrations in sensitive, important investigations that you end up with prosecutors—either too few, who are unwilling to move forward at the desired pace, or too many and you turn every simple decision into a debate club—and it slows progress,” Hosko said. “Here, I think that is the pulse that you in the media and others ought to be keeping close to: What’s the pace? Are the investigators getting the prosecutors’ support that they need?”

Attorneys in the DOJ’s National Security Division are responsible for securing subpoenas and court orders for the FBI agents working the Russia investigation. Hosko said agents sometimes suspect politics is to blame when Justice Department lawyers don’t move as fast as they would like.

“Prosecutors will sometimes start to debate and question every word in a subpoena and it tends to slow progress,” Hosko said. “And then you start to ask questions about—is this because of something political?”

Hosko also said he believes Dana Boente, the acting head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, has “impeccable integrity,” and wouldn’t let political concerns slow an investigation.

But those reassurances are unlikely to quell the fears of veteran FBI agents investigating the president’s associates.

“The Orange blob in the WH doesn’t care about anyone or anything he can’t control,” said the former high-ranking official. “He’s made that abundantly clear.”