America First or Trump First?

I was seeing a U.S. president put Russia first, not America first.

.. What’s the matter with you? I don’t know the definitive answer to that question, but I know that it will be an increasing problem as we enter Phase 3 of the Trump presidency.

.. Phase 1 saw Trump unhinged but bound — bound by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn. In Phase 1 Trump said and did plenty of crazy stuff, but these key aides limited the damage.

.. Phase 2 has seen Trump unhinged and unboundTrump has neutered Kelly, distanced himself from Mattis and sacked Tillerson, McMaster and Cohn. He replaced the last three with men so hungry for their jobs that they were ready to step over the bodies of their predecessors, who, they knew, were pushed out for standing up to Trump on policies and principles

Watching longtime anti-Russia hawks — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton — shucking off everything they’ve said over the years and ignoring Trump’s coddling of Putin and his trashing of the F.B.I. in order to grab jobs they’d long coveted is witnessing careerism, sycophancy and cynicism on an industrial scale.

But that sets up Trump Phase 3: unhinged and unbound and unintended.

.. “What America’s allies in Europe learned from Trump’s recent visit is that the United States, at his direction, is acting more like predator than partner. They are concluding that Trump is not looking for a better deal with the European Union. He’s looking to destroy the European Union. And even though they understand the difference between the president and the government he leads, they know the West may never be the same again.”

.. There is one critical defense line left — that formed by F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

.. Wray, Coats and Rosenstein all rose to the occasion. They knew Helsinki was a test of their institutions and themselves, and they passed it with flying colors — always putting America first and not Trump first when it really mattered.

.. Wray also let lawmakers and other critics know that their conspiracy theories about the F.B.I. and Justice Department’s Russia investigations were not intimidating him

.. Rosenstein backed up Coats 100 percent, declaring: “As Director Coats made clear, these [Russian] actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.”

.. Unfortunately, the secretary of homeland security showed no such spine. Asked if the Russians had intervened to favor Trump, Nielsen said with a straight face: “I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party. I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides.”

.. That was the sound of a senior national security official putting Trump first, not America first. Nielsen proved to be a shameful coward. I sure hope we do not have a homeland security crisis on her watch.

.. Why do they so freely sacrifice their own reputations and their own integrity to defend a man with no integrity, a man who would sell each and every one of them down the river the second he decided it was in his interest? It is inexplicable to me.

At least Stormy Daniels got paid.

 

Lois Lerner’s Last Laugh

If Congress did its job, nobody would be talking about another special counsel.

When House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes subpoenaed documents and testimony from the FBI and Justice Department, he was stonewalled for months. In a last-minute bid to circumvent the committee’s demands, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met with Speaker Paul Ryan. The two men ended up agreeing to comply with the subpoenas—but only because Mr. Ryan informed them they would be found in contempt if they did not.

This kind of stonewalling has fed the agitation on Capitol Hill for a second special counsel, who would look into everything from the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation to the use of the Christopher Steele dossier to obtain warrants to listen in on members of the Trump campaign. The calls are mistaken. But the frustration is real

.. But missing here is any discussion of the powers Congress itself has, including but not limited to the subpoena and contempt powers that ultimately forced Mr. Wray and Mr. Rosenstein into compliance.

.. If it only has the backbone, Congress can get what it wants out of the federal bureaucracy. Several executive-branch officials—including Justice’s Bruce Ohr and FBI lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page —will soon testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Possibly some or all of them will invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

If Congress insists on its prerogatives, however, that wouldn’t be the end of the story. Witnesses who plead the Fifth can still be compelled to testify. The price is that the compelled testimony, and evidence derived from that testimony, couldn’t be used against the witness in a prosecution.

A special counsel might not like this, given his emphasis on indictments and prosecutions. But Congress should, because its end goal is political accountability. Which would be up to the American people to impose after learning exactly what abuses have transpired.

FBI Director Defends Handling of Background Check of Former Trump Aide

The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said his agency first flagged issues with its background check of Rob Porter to the administration in March, a timeline that conflicts with what the White House said it knew about the former aide’s past.

.. Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the FBI last year gave multiple updates to the White House on its findings about Mr. Porter. After sharing a partial report on Mr. Porter in March, the FBI provided its completed background check on Mr. Porter to the White House in July, Mr. Wray said.

.. Last fall, White House counsel Don McGahn told Mr. Kelly there was “an issue” involving Mr. Porter’s clearance, according to an administration official, who said Mr. McGahn didn’t provide many details. Mr. Kelly was surprised to learn that Mr. Porter, 40, had been married before.

The chief of staff, a retired four-star general, also expressed dissatisfaction about the number of White House aides who were operating under interim security clearances. “His view was, ’We would never have this at the Pentagon,” the official said.

Trump’s New Solicitor General Could Fire Russia Investigator Robert Mueller

Francisco was a partner at Jones Day, which Bloomberg Businessweek has called“Trump’s favorite law firm.” The outlet reported in March that at least 14 lawyers from the firm had joined the Trump administration or had been nominated to do so, including Don McGahn, the White House counsel.

.. lawyers from “Trump’s favorite” firm contributed only $7,422 to Trump’s campaign, compared to $267,899 to Hillary Clinton’s.

.. Francisco also is an expert at the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarians in the legal world. The executive vice president, Leonard Leo, is said to have secured the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Gorsuch and FBI Director Christopher Wray also are listed as experts there. Francisco has donated thousands of dollars to federal election candidates, all Republicans, though not to Trump.

..  Ted Cruz, who once worked with Francisco at the law firm Cooper & Kirk. “He’s a brilliant lawyer & a principled conservative.”