U.S. Politics

The Americans, season 5, episode 1

 

Paul Manafort (center) is accused of talking with Russian intelligence during the campaign.

Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

VOX SENTENCES (from my inbox)

  • There are roughly three distinct scandals regarding the relationship between the Trump administration and the Russian government (Russia’s alleged attempts to intervene in the election to help Trump; calls between ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak; and rumored blackmail material Russia might have on Trump). They’re rapidly metastasizing into one. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Most recently, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump campaign officials had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign — which is not something that presidential campaigns typically do with foreign countries’ intelligence services. [NYT / Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo]
  • There’s no evidence that they discussed Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That’s plausible because so many members of Trump’s inner circle had preexisting relationships with Russian officials. Which itself raises a lot of questions. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Flynn, for example, could have been freelancing when he hinted to Kislyak that Trump would lift sanctions on Russia. But he also could have been in contact with Trump on the subject, or even acting on Trump’s direction. The point is we don’t know for sure. [The Atlantic / Uri Friedman]
  • The Trump administration, of course, claims no one but Flynn had any involvement. But since they can’t keep their stories straight about what happened to Flynn — press secretary Sean Spicer claims he lost Trump’s trust, while Trump himself praised Flynn and blamed government leakers for his ouster — it is not clear that the administration should be believed. [Vox / Tara Golshan]
  • Trump (and Flynn) isn’t entirely wrong. The anti-Trump leaks are definitely motivated, at least in part, by people in the intelligence services trying to rein Trump in. It’s just that the intelligence community is totally outplaying the White House. [Foreign Policy / Marc Ambinder]
  • The irony is that as all this is happening, the Trump administration’s actual policy toward Russia isn’t softening much. It’s now calling for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine — something Russia has absolutely no intention of doing. [Reuters / Ayesha Rascoe]
  • Russia, for its part, is sending Atlantic spy ships farther north and closer to the US than ever before. [CNN / Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr]

 

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: February 16, 2017

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump slams intelligence agencies for ‘illegal’ leaks
President Trump lashed out at U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday, accusing them of “illegal” leaks that brought down his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Trump has been facing potentially damaging questions about contacts with Russia by Flynn and other Trump aides, but the president tried to redirect the outrage, saying in a tweet that the “un-American” leaks were the “real scandal.” Trump reportedly plans to assign Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, to head a review of intelligence agencies. Members of the intelligence community, which reportedly has begun withholding some sensitive details from Trump’s intelligence briefings for fear of leaks, say they worry the review could curb their independence and have a chilling effect on information Trump doesn’t like.

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

2. Trump labor nominee Andrew Puzder drops out
President Trump’s labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration on Wednesday as growing resistance from some Republicans threatened to sink his confirmation. A growing number of Senate Republicans opposed Puzder, largely due to his past employment of an undocumented housekeeper, while Democrats criticized him for several reasons, including his opposition to minimum-wage increases and more generous overtime benefits. Puzder’s withdrawal added to the turmoil already dogging the Trump administration following the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Source: The Washington Post

3. Trump says two-state solution isn’t required for Mideast peace
President Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. would drop its insistence that the creation of a Palestinian state be a part of any Middle East peace deal, a departure from a diplomatic goal set in the 1990s. Speaking after meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he was “looking at two-state and one-state” solutions. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” he said, adding that he’d like Israel to “hold back” on further settlement construction in Palestinian territories to help pave the way for a “great peace deal.” Trump vowed to restore strong, smooth relations with Netanyahu, who frequently clashed with former President Barack Obama. Palestinian leaders have given no indication they would accept an alternative to a two-state solution.

Source: The New York Times

4. Defense secretary gives NATO allies ultimatum on defense spending
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday warned NATO allies that the U.S. might alter its relationship with them if they don’t contribute more to their own defense. “America will meet its responsibilities,” he said, “but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.” Mattis delivered the ultimatum during a meeting with other NATO defense ministers. During his campaign, President Trump frequently called for U.S. allies to pay more for their own defense, calling NATO “obsolete” and calling for the defense alliance’s 28 members to pay “their fair share.”

Source: The Washington Post

5. Trump administration proposes tightening ObamaCare enrollment process
The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed changes to ObamaCare that would make it harder for Americans to move in and out of insurance plans by tightening enrollment processes and helping insurers to collect unpaid premiums. The changes could result in higher out-of-pocket costs for policy holders, but insurers welcomed the new rules issued by a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. President Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, a key part of former President Barack Obama’s legacy.

Source: Reuters

6. Pentagon might recommend sending ground troops to Syria
The Defense Department is considering recommending sending U.S. combat troops to Syria, CNN reported Wednesday. The move would be part of an effort to follow through on President Trump’s call for a plan by the end of the month to combat the Islamic State. Small teams of Special Operations forces already are in Syria training and assisting anti-ISIS opposition groups, but if President Trump approves sending conventional ground troops, he will be fundamentally shifting the U.S. war against ISIS. The Obama administration concluded that sending ground troops was too risky.

Source: CNN

7. Senate blocks Obama rule barring mentally ill from buying guns
The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday voted 57-43 to repeal an Obama administration rule barring some mentally ill people from buying guns. The House passed the measure earlier this month, so it now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The rule, which was written after a mentally-impaired man killed 26 people at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, would require the Social Security Administration to report to the FBI background-check database people who receive disability benefits but have been deemed incapable of managing their own financial affairs. It was set to take effect in December, and would impact about 75,000 people. The National Rifle Association opposed the rule as a violation of Second Amendment rights, and the ACLU said it could stereotype mentally ill people as violent.

Source: NPR, The Associated Press

8. Susan Collins says she will vote against Pruitt EPA confirmation
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday that she planned to vote against confirming Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Collins said she and Pruitt “have fundamentally different views of the role and mission” of the agency. Pruitt, as Oklahoma’s attorney general, filed numerous lawsuits against the EPA, opposing its regulations on such things as mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and cross-state air pollution. Collins said she doubts he backs “the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.” The Trump administration says Pruitt is “an expert in constitutional law” with “a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy.” Collins so far is the only Republican to defect on Pruitt’s nomination, so Republicans should have enough votes to confirm him.

Source: The Washington Post

9. Malaysia arrests two more suspects in Kim Jong Nam killing
Malaysian police said Thursday that they had arrested two more suspects in connection with the airport poisoning death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The first suspect, a woman with Vietnamese travel papers, was arrested Wednesday. A second woman, who had an Indonesian passport, and a man believed to be her boyfriend, were arrested on Thursday. North Korea is suspected of being behind the killing, although no evidence has emerged yet to support the theory. The isolated communist country on Thursday is celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of the late leader Kim Jong Il, father of both Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Nam.

Source: BBC News, The Associated Press

10. Morning Joe blacklists Kellyanne Conway
Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski announced on Wednesday that the MSNBC morning show would stop booking interviews with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway because she is “not credible anymore.” “I don’t believe in fake news, or information that is not true,” Brzezinski said. “Every time I’ve ever seen her on television, something’s askew, off, or incorrect.” Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough said Conway is “out of the loop. She’s in none of the key meetings. … [It’s] bad that a spokesperson in the White House actually goes out and makes things up.” The move came after Conway told reporters on Monday that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had “the full confidence of the president” hours before Flynn resigned.

Source: US Weekly, The Washington Post

U.S. Politics

Republican responsible for investigating Michael Flynn wants to investigate leaks instead

Republican responsible for investigating Michael Flynn wants to investigate leaks instead

Image Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP | Rep. Jason Chaffetz

POLICY.MIC

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday night he was ready to recommend an investigation of recently resigned national security adviser Michael Flynn’s pre-inaugural phone call with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

More specifically, an investigation not of President Donald Trump‘s ties to Russia, but to find out who blew the whistle on Flynn and punish them.

In an interview with Fox News, Chaffetz told host Martha MacCallum “no matter where you are on the political spectrum, you cannot have classified information migrating out into a non-classified setting.”

“You have a duty and an obligation, because by its very nature, if that classified information gets out there, it can harm somebody,” Chaffetz added. “It can kill somebody.”

Source: Evan Vucci/AP

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday night he was ready to recommend an investigation of recently resigned national security adviser Michael Flynn’s pre-inaugural phone call with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

More specifically, an investigation not of President Donald Trump‘s ties to Russia, but to find out who blew the whistle on Flynn and punish them.

In an interview with Fox News, Chaffetz told host Martha MacCallum “no matter where you are on the political spectrum, you cannot have classified information migrating out into a non-classified setting.”

“You have a duty and an obligation, because by its very nature, if that classified information gets out there, it can harm somebody,” Chaffetz added. “It can kill somebody.”

In a Wednesday night letter from Chaffetz and House Committee on the Judiciary chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the two representatives told Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz they had “serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information” and requested he “begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here.”

Earlier in the day, Chaffetz had suggested the broader issue of Flynn’s call was “taking care of itself.”

dupree

In other words, rather than probe whether Flynn’s conversation about sanctions with Kislyak was connected to other leaks indicating Trump’s campaign was in repeated contact with Russian spies, Chaffetz wants to find whoever told Washington Post reporter David Ignatius about the call.

As the Intercept noted, whoever leaked the call likely did commit a felony — and may have been one of Flynn’s enemies rather than a benevolent party. Regardless, its release to the public has added yet more pressure around concerns there is something untoward connecting Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the hacks of Democratic Party targets during the presidential election.

So far, Chaffetz’ unwillingness to investigate those concerns has mirrored the approach of most of his fellow Republicans. But that unwillingness does not come without political consequences. At a recent town hall meeting in Salt Lake City, Chaffetz was greeted with a horde of angry constituents demanding he investigate the president’s ties to Russia and his numerous other conflicts of interest.

Tom McKay

U.S. Politics

Priebus, Bannon trash reports of division

Image result for PRIEBUS AND BANNON

Fox News video

THE HILL

In a joint phone call with The Hill on Wednesday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon furiously pushed back at reports of division, saying there is no friction between them.

Trump aides are particularly angry with a story published Tuesday by the conservative outlet Bannon once ran, Breitbart News, in which anonymous sources blamed Priebus for tumult at the White House and suggested that the chief of staff’s job was in immediate jeopardy.

But Bannon and Priebus insisted that they’re working closely and amicably together and that reports to the contrary are false.

“Reince is doing an amazing job,” Bannon told The Hill. “We are executing on President Trump’s agenda in record time. That’s because Reince is getting the job done.”

“It is a privilege to come to work on behalf of President Trump to serve the American people,” added Priebus. “We are a completely united team dedicated to enacting his bold agenda to bring back jobs and keep this country safe.”

Until recently, the White House had been slow to respond to the continuous drip of leaks that have led to the media narrative that Bannon and Priebus represent rival wings within the White House.

Allies of both men told The Hill on Wednesday that the press is being played by low-level staffers or former campaign hands, now White House outsiders, who have no idea about the working relationship between the two or the internal dynamics.

And they insist that the Breitbart story is totally false, the creation of rogue outsiders hell-bent on Priebus’s destruction.

“I am a believer in Reince and the President continues to be well served by his leadership,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, said in a separate statement.

In a joint statement announcing the hiring of Bannon and Priebus last November, Trump said the two would work together as “equal partners.”

Bannon has since rocketed into public consciousness, with the administration’s opponents warning about his outsized influence over Trump and media outlets portraying him as the person pulling the strings — often at Priebus’s expense.

The perception of an internal battle for influence has been heightened by leaks, reported by countless news outlets, purported to have come from the White House or Trump’s inner circle.

The White House has begun taking a more aggressive posture aimed at beating back those reports, insisting that the leaks are coming from individuals with no actual knowledge of the White House’s inner workings.

“Reince has done an excellent job,” said Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “He works tirelessly to carry out the president’s agenda and the entire staff is grateful for his dedication and leadership.”

Much of the perceived tension between Bannon and Priebus stems from their diametrically opposed backgrounds.

As the former Breitbart News executive, Bannon oversaw a publication that relished in targeting GOP establishment figures like Priebus and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and challenging traditional Republican orthodoxy.

Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman, has long been seen as a voice for establishment Republicans and a calming force in Trump’s administration.

That makes Priebus a target for some longtime Trump allies, who see him as an interloper who can’t be trusted. Those who think Priebus was never a true believer now say he’s using his power to freeze out some of Trump’s oldest allies.

“The White House has become an RNC cabal, all RNC people top to bottom,” said one GOP operative with knowledge of Trump’s operations. “Almost all the campaign people are banished to agencies. None are in the White House. There is an undercurrent of distrust and anger at the agency level that is palpable. They hate Reince Priebus and his lackeys because he screwed these people. He’s very cunning. He’s really something else.”

Those tensions exploded into the open this week when Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor, ran a story based on unnamed sources “close to the president” blaming Priebus for everything from national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation to the slow pace of Trump’s Cabinet confirmations in the Senate.

Many assumed the story ran with the blessing of Bannon and represented the latest salvo in his ongoing struggle with Priebus.

“It’s obvious what’s happening. Bannon’s trying to run him out,” one GOP lawmaker told The Hill on Wednesday.

“I think Bannon’s knives are out for Priebus, but Trump set this up on purpose so they would compete,” the lawmaker said.

However, Bannon says he did not know the story would run and was angry that his old publication had attacked his colleague at a critical juncture for the administration.

Still, Priebus’s critics sense that he is vulnerable in the wake of the most chaotic stretch yet for the young administration. They’re increasingly airing their grievances with the chief of staff.

Longtime Trump confidante and conservative provocateur Roger Stone has blamed Priebus for Flynn’s ouster, declaring it a “Pearl Harbor” attack on Trump allies and demanding that he be the next to go.

And Newsmax founder Chris Ruddy, another longtime friend of Trump’s, went on CNN over the weekend to say Priebus is in over his head, before walking his remarks back.

“He’s supposed to be the guy making the trains run on time and he’s not doing it,” said one source with knowledge of the inner workings at the White House.

“There are so many things that are not being done right now because he’s not doing his job and that’s why you’re starting to see people speak up about how they think and hope he’ll be gone soon,” said another GOP source with ties to the White House and conservative business leaders.

It’s not entirely clear, however, if anyone with real influence with Trump is behind the criticism of Priebus or the effort to sink him.

Priebus’s critics have become more vocal since Flynn resigned. Flynn was a fierce Trump loyalist and a longtime supporter, and some of his backers would like to see an establishment figure knocked off now that they’ve lost one of their own.

That frustrates allies of Bannon and Priebus, who have gone out of their way to show they have a healthy working relationship.

“You can’t govern by trading one head for another,” a Bannon friend said.

White House officials claim that the daily barrage of reports about infighting actually helps to unite the staff.

“Everyone here has each others back, and the more people try to feed that rumor mill, the stronger the bonds get,” one official told The Hill.

Establishment Republicans are hopeful that Priebus succeeds, viewing him as a key ally in the White House.

“Priebus is the only one in that orbit who understands how things work operationally,” said a former Republican administration aide. “And he’s proven that he knows how to run an operation. Say what you want about the election, the RNC was run pretty well.”

—Scott Wong and Amie Parnes contributed

U.S. Politics

Daniel Ramirez Medina: what we know about the DREAMer detained by immigration agents

ramirez

ICE agents prepare to enter a home during a ‘fugitive operations” raid. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty)

VOX

Is Ramirez’s arrest a mistake, or an omen? 750,000 immigrants’ lives depend on the answer.

President Trump has said that any unauthorized immigrant in the US should be deportable. But he has also said that the 750,000 immigrants who’ve been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which grants two-year protection from deportation and work permits to young adults who came to the US as children — are “terrific” people who shouldn’t worry about their futures.

Those two positions always conflicted. And while the Trump administration is still delaying a decision on what to do with the “DREAMers” who’ve received DACA protections, it looks like the crisis is coming to a head.

On Tuesday, news broke that a DACA recipient, Daniel Ramirez Medina, had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in the Seattle area and put in immigration detention. It’s not clear whether Ramirez is actually being put in deportation proceedings, or whether DHS is stripping him of his protections — or if this is all a mistake. But in the context of the broader uncertainty that DACA recipients are feeling under the Trump administration, and the widespread panic caused by nationwide immigration raids last week, the case has gotten a lot of public attention very quickly. How it gets resolved will send a strong message about how safe “DACAmented” immigrants really are under Trump.

DREAMer protest with sunglasses

What we know about the arrest of Daniel Ramirez

  • Daniel Ramirez came to the US from Mexico when he was 7. He’s now 23, with a 3-year-old son who is a US citizen. Under DACA, he applied for protection from deportation and a work permit in 2014, and received both. He got his DACA renewed on May 5, 2016 — meaning that, in theory, he should be protected from deportation and able to work legally through May 2018.
  • According to the complaint filed by Ramirez’s lawyers, ICE agents came to the home of Ramirez’s father on the morning of February 10 with a warrant for Ramirez’s father. ICE says that Ramirez’s father is a felon and had been deported in the past, which (if true) would make his arrest consistent with the targets of widespread raids last week.
  • Daniel Ramirez and his brother (who also has DACA) were both in the house, and when the ICE agents entered after arresting Ramirez’s father, they reportedly asked Daniel Ramirez if he was in the US legally. Ramirez said he had a work permit but did not answer further questions. (According to the complaint, ICE agents currently have possession of Ramirez’s wallet, which includes a work permit that identifies him as a DACA recipient.)
  • The ICE agents took Daniel Ramirez into custody. He’s currently in immigration detention in Tacoma.
  • Ramirez’s brother does not appear to have been arrested.
  • On Tuesday, lawyers filed a complaint in federal court over Ramirez’s detention, asking a judge to order the Department of Homeland Security to release Ramirez because he hasn’t been charged with anything and shouldn’t, as a DACA recipient, have been detained in the first place.
  • The federal magistrate judge in the case (as reported by Adolfo Flores and Chris Geidner of BuzzFeed) has given the government until Thursday morning to either release Ramirez or explain why he is still in custody despite having DACA. The judge has also ordered the government to clarify whether Ramirez is officially being put into deportation proceedings.

ICE says Daniel Ramirez is a gang member — which could make for a tricky case

On Tuesday, ICE released a statement calling Daniel Ramirez a “self-admitted gang member” who’d been taken into custody “based on his admitted gang affiliation and risk to public safety.”

Ramirez’s lawyers deny that he has any gang involvement — instead, lawyer Ethan Dettmer told Reuters that ICE agents “repeatedly pressured” Ramirez “to falsely admit” gang affiliation. Dettmer, it’s worth noting, is a partner at the major law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, whose partners include former US Solicitor General Ted Olson and a lawyer who was rumored to be on the shortlist to head the Securities and Exchange Commission under Trump — which should give you a sense of how seriously advocates are taking this case.

Here’s why the gang involvement question is so critical: In theory, the government can take away an individual’s protection from deportation under DACA at any time, because DACA is officially a grant of “prosecutorial discretion” in an individual case rather than a formal grant of immigration status. Meanwhile, one of the reasons someone applying for DACA (for the first time, or for a two-year renewal) can be denied protection is if he’s deemed a threat to public safety — a category that includes gang affiliation.

DHS could, in theory, strip Ramirez’s DACA protections from him for no reason whatsoever — but it could take a more conservative approach (which wouldn’t necessarily have implications for the other 750,000 DACA recipients) by arguing that he’s rendered himself ineligible for protection by being a member of a gang.

Unhelpfully, determining that someone is or is not a gang member is very tricky. ICE, as well as many states, maintains databases of “known gang members” — but those databases are often overbroad and inaccurate. If this question is what Ramirez’s case comes down to, DHS could make an argument that it’s actively rescinding Ramirez’s DACA protections for a particular reason (gang affiliation) rather than just disregarding them.

Ramirez’s arrest could be a mistake — or an attempt to push the envelope

It’s entirely possible that Ramirez’s arrest was a mistake. Jorge Barón, the executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, told the Stranger that he thinks Ramirez was simply scooped up during the raid that arrested his father as a “collateral arrest.” As Barón points out, collateral arrests spread fear throughout immigrant communities — since they mean people are being scooped up simply for being unauthorized and in the wrong place at the wrong time — but they don’t necessarily mean that the government is changing its stance toward DACA recipients.

It’s also possible that the arrest wasn’t a mistake, per se — that the agents knew Ramirez had DACA and arrested him anyway — but that, as a policy, the government still isn’t going after DACA recipients.

The future of the DACA program, as a whole, is in doubt. Trump administration officials have drafted an executive order that would phase out the program over two years, making DACA recipients deportable (and no longer able to work legally) once their current grants expire. But negotiations over whether Trump should actually sign it appear to be ongoing.

In the context of that uncertainty, the Ramirez arrest seems ominous to advocates and immigrants of what might be coming.

Still, immigration lawyers report that their clients are still getting DACA grants and renewals from US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Officially, the program is still in effect.

Ramirez’s arrest raises questions, however, about whether ICE is getting more aggressive toward DACA recipients despite their having DACA — and whether ICE is going to try to strip them of protections and deport them. The circumstances of Ramirez’s case might be unique (a collateral arrest in a raid that targeted his father, a purported gang affiliation), but once ICE has crossed the line of treating DACA recipients as deportable, every DACA recipient is likely to worry that they’ll be next.

DREAMer arrestedMark Abramson/the Washington Post via Getty

As the past several years of immigration enforcement have demonstrated, “policy” isn’t just what memos from political appointees say the government is doing — it’s what agents in the field actually do.

The ICE agents in Washington state may not have been acting on an official Trump administration policy when they detained Ramirez. And if they’re brought back into line, and the Department of Homeland Security discourages agents from arresting DACA recipients in future, then Ramirez’s arrest really will be an isolated incident — a mistake, even.

On the other hand, if they keep him in custody and bring a case against him — and especially if other ICE agents follow suit — they’ll effectively send a message that even though DACA is still officially on the books, 750,000 “DACAmented” immigrants are no longer safe.

U.S. Politics

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let's consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit

SALON

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As the New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he’d had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborates, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty, and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [i.e., other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation into Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the non-story that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bonafides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as diehard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spycraft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Donald Trump in a type of political suicide mission, because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought not to be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Donald Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Vladimir Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers in order to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and/or a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Michael Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. taken place. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal may occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay here at Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons Donald Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still-unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents only serve to reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question with the hope that I am wrong.

Chauncey DeVega

U.S. Politics

Reporter’s Question About Russia P*ssed Trump Off So Much He Kicked Everyone Out Of His Office

Reporter’s Question About Russia P*ssed Trump Off So Much He Kicked Everyone Out Of His Office

Getty Images/Win McNamee

ADDICTING INFO

If you want to know how Trump treats the press, you need only read the White House press pool report from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit:

The pool was then ushered into the Oval. POTUS and Benjamin Netanyahu sat in two chairs set up in front of the fireplace. FLOTUS sat on the couch to POTUS’s right. Sara Netanyahu sat on the opposite couch.

POTUS referred to the press as: “The nicest people over there.”

This remark was a clear attempt to soften up the people Trump usually demonizes as “fake news” and the “lying media.” In fact, the report says Trump even went out of his way to compliment “FAKE NEWS” CNN’s Sarah Murray on a recent story. It was then that Murray, undeterred by The Donald’s effort to win her over with a couple compliments, asked her question and all hell broke loose:

He called out to CNN’s Sara Murray and complimented a recent story. She asked POTUS to comment on whether his advisors contacted Russian intelligence officer during the campaign.
*_Trump did not respond to her question._* Pool was asked to leave.

This should have been an easy question for Trump. The answer is “yes.” Calls between key Trump staffers have not only been intercepted and made public by our own intelligence agencies and those of our allies who now have to spy on us because Trump is likely compromised. Michael Flynn just resigned because of his discussions of sanctions with the Russian ambassador while Obama was still President.

Instead, Trump said nothing. No admission of wrongdoing, no promise to vet his people better or to actually do his f*cking duty to the American people, nothing.

The terrifying thing is that Trump doesn’t have to say anything.

House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz — that’s the guy who led the charge against Hillary Clinton — has already vowed that he will “never satisfy their desire to bring down Donald Trump.” Rand Paul accidentally admitted that Republicans won’t back a Trump investigation because they’re too busy taking healthcare away from our country’s most vulnerable. Besides, it’s not like Trump is a Democrat, right?

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Paul says. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

Think about that. Trump wasn’t joking when he said he could shoot someone in public and not lose support — and he wasn’t just talking about voters. At this point, we can pretty safely assume that our government is compromised to the point that he can literally get away with anything.

“You either have a country or you don’t,” a small-handed orange man once said a few billion times. Call your congressmen. Demand they do the right thing and investigate and impeach Donald J. Trump now — while we still have a country.

John Prager

U.S. Politics

Trump Administration Increasingly At Odds With U.S. Intelligence Community

Bloomberg via Getty Images

THE HUFFINGTON POST

“The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.”

Multiple reports this week have cast the administration of Donald Trump as being increasingly at odds with U.S. intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency and the FBI, just weeks into his presidency and mere days after the fall of national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that intelligence agencies may be withholding sensitive information from the president over fears it could be leaked. The news organization, citing unnamed former and current officials, said that the withheld information could include intelligence gathering methods, such as “the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.” The sources said such decisions to keep information under wraps would be connected to Trump’s apparent fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The White House denied the allegations, and the Journal said its sources didn’t know of any instance in which “crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted.”

Also Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Trump may tap Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire New Yorker and friend of chief strategist Steve Bannon, to lead a review of U.S. intelligence agencies. While not official, the move has prompted concerns among the intelligence community that Feinberg’s role could “curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.”

The Times noted that the assignment could be a precursor for Feinberg, who has no intelligence experience, to take up “a high position” at one of the agencies.

The reports came just hours after Trump took to Twitter to lambast American spy agencies over what he called illegal leaks of sensitive information that led to Flynn’s resignation Monday. The retired Army officer stepped down after The Washington Post reported last week that he had spoken with Russian officials about U.S sanctions against the country weeks before Trump’s inauguration, despite administration officials saying he hadn’t.

The Post then reported Monday that the Justice Department had informed Trump in January that Flynn had misled officials and was “potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.” The president has since faced criticism for not acting sooner.

Rather than address these concerns, Trump has dodged reporters, tweeted his ire, and, during a press conference Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the dissemination of such information to the media a “criminal act.”

“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked,” Trump said at the news conference. “It’s a criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on. And people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”

trump-2_16

Trump has also tried to deflect the firestorm around Flynn by using one of his favorite methods: attacking the media.

“I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media ― as I call it, the fake media, in many cases,” he said at the press conference. “I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.”

All of Trump’s comments come less than a month after he visited CIA headquarters in Virginia following the inauguration. During an address to intelligence officials there, Trump thanked them for their service and blamed any implied rift between himself and the agencies on the media.

“There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” he said. “There’s nobody.”

Nick Visser