Faust on the Potomac

Trump is morally and intellectually incapable of being president. He has also exploited his office for personal gain, obstructed justice, and colluded with a hostile foreign power. Everyone who doesn’t get their news from Fox has basically known this for a while, although Wolff helps focus our minds on the subject.

.. Republicans in Congress are dealing with this national nightmare: rather than distancing themselves from Trump, they’re doubling down on their support and, in particular, on their efforts to cover for his defects and crimes.

Remember when Paul Ryan was the Serious, Honest Conservative?

.. Now he’s backing Devin Nunes in his efforts to help the Trump coverup.

.. Republicans have become the Grand Obstruction Party. Why?

The answer, I think, is that the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap

.. The cynical bargain I’m talking about, of course, was the decision to exploit racism to advance a right-wing economic agenda.

.. For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent.

.. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else.

.. just about everyone in the Republican establishment decided that they could work with that.

.. were willing to overlook it as long as they could push their usual agenda.

.. They guessed, correctly, that this wouldn’t be a problem: Trump didn’t even hesitate about abandoning all his campaign promises and going all in for cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits for the poor.

.. some speculated that this would be a temporary alliance – that establishment Republicans would use Trump to get what they wanted, then turn on him. But it’s now clear that won’t happen.

.. Republicans, far from cutting him loose, are tying themselves even more closely to his fate. Why?

.. Trump’s very awfulness means that if he falls, the whole party will fall with him.

.. Republicans could conceivably distance themselves from a president who turned out to be a bad manager, or even one who turned out to have engaged in small-time corruption. But when the corruption is big time, and it’s combined with obstruction of justice and collaboration with Putin, nobody will notice which Republicans were a bit less involved, a bit less obsequious, than others.

..  now have the Republican party as a whole fully complicit in Trump’s crimes

.. expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.

Fifty Shades of Orange

 In a performance that would have embarrassed the most obsequious lackey of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Vice President Mike Pence delivered an encomium to his boss, who sat across the table with arms folded over his chest, absorbing abasement as his due.

“I want to thank you, Mr. President,” Pence said. “I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America. Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.” The president thanked him for his kind words, and Pence replied, “Thank you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”

.. Trump and establishment Republicans adopt one another’s worst qualities. Trump, who campaigned as a putative economic populist — even calling for higher taxes on the rich — will soon sign into law the tax plan of the House speaker Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams. The majority of elected Republicans, in turn, are assuming a posture of slavish submission to Trump, worshiping their dear leader and collaborating in the maintenance of his alternative reality.

.. From a secular perspective, Pence, like many other Republicans, appears to be a person inclined to authoritarianism.

.. Erich Fromm, a German-Jewish psychoanalyst who fled Nazism, described authoritarian personalities as simultaneously craving power and submission. “The authoritarian character loves those conditions that limit human freedom; he loves being submitted to fate,” he wrote. Fate, in his formulation, can be the laws of the market, the will of God, or the whims of a leader. According to Fromm, authoritarians might make a show of valuing freedom and independence — watchwords of the American right — but long to be ruled by a stronger force.

.. Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, spoke of his “love” for the president, who he described as “one heck of a leader.” He added, “We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.”

.. Either Hatch really believes this, or he believes in the utility of unabashed sycophancy. Neither possibility suggests he will be an ally in preserving democracy.

.. participating in the ludicrous fiction that there was a pro-Hillary Clinton conspiracy afoot in the F.B.I., an entity led by a succession of Republicans and described by one agent during the election as “Trumpland.”

.. If Republicans were as loyal to the country as they are to the president, they’d want to know exactly what had Strzok so alarmed.

.. It is, as they say, not normal for erstwhile law-and-order Republicans to attack the F.B.I. for being overzealous in its pursuit of Russian subversion.

.. Nunes’s inquiry appears similar to Trump’s voter fraud commission

.. Hannah Arendt once wrote of this sort of policy-as-disinformation: “Totalitarianism will not be satisfied to assert, in the face of contrary facts, that unemployment does not exist; it will abolish unemployment benefits as part of its propaganda.”

.. a lot of us have assumed that Republicans are putting up with Trump out of fear of their base or lust for tax cuts. We’ve imagined that beneath our mutual partisan loathing lies some remaining shared commitment to liberal democracy.

.. But there’s another possibility, which is that a critical mass of Republicans like being in thrall to a man who seems strong enough to will his own reality, and bold enough to voice their atavistic hatreds. Maybe Trump is changing Republicans, or maybe he’s just giving men like Pence permission to be who they already were.

Russian deception influenced election due to Trump’s support, senators hear

Former FBI special agent discusses Russia’s longstanding ‘active measures’ – including the spread of fake news – before Senate intelligence committee

 Donald Trump’s willingness to embrace Russian disinformation was one of the reasons Russia’s interference in the 2016 election worked, the Senate panel investigating the president’s alleged ties to the country heard on Thursday.

.. The expert added that Russia possessed unreleased hacked information on thousands of Americans it could “weaponize” to discredit inconvenient sources.

.. Those and other measures provided Russia with an inexpensive tool to check its wealthier adversaries in the US and Nato

.. Wittingly or not, Trump and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, embraced and promoted narratives, including false ones, convenient to Russian interests, including a fake story about a terrorist attack on the Turkish airbase at Incirlik used by US forces and baselessly doubting the US citizenships of Barack Obama and Ted Cruz.
.. California Republican Devin Nunes. Nunes is under Democratic pressure to recuse himself after his promotion of information provided to him at the White House and cancellations of public hearings prompted allegations of covering up for Trump.

The White House’s game on Russia has now been fully exposed

Republicans may be successful at subverting the possibility of getting to the bottom of the scandal — which they are now clearly trying to do, by creating a distraction aimed at diverting public attention away from story and instead towards conspiracy theories involving the Obama administration.

.. The aim is to cast the Russia investigation as another Benghazi — by turning former National Security Advisor Susan Rice into the villain of the story, and fixing the focus of the hearings on her.

.. All of Trump’s efforts to smear his predecessor, including accusing former President Obama of ordering surveillance of Trump Tower, and claiming that Rice had committed a crime, have been proven false — something Trump and his allies refuse to even acknowledge.

.. rather than retract his baseless tweet, Trump and his allies latched onto it, spinning implausible theories in an effort to drum up even a sliver of evidence for it after the fact.

.. the White House “put out an all-points bulletin” to “find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.”

.. Nunes appeared to collaborate with the White House to review cherry-picked classified intelligence and leak it to the media to craft a false narrative that the Obama administration had somehow surveilled the Trump team.

.. One thing to watch for now is the role the conservative media — allied with Trump — will likely play in shifting the focus to Rice. Primed by another spurious, politicized GOP investigation involving Rice (Benghazi), conservative pundits are eager to portray Rice as a devious figure in this new narrative.

.. But it now looks as if the House Intelligence Committee will try to embroil Rice in the Russia hearings, anyway. If so, it will show just how far the Committee’s Republicans are willing to go to prop up Trump’s lies — and to distract from efforts to get to the bottom of Russian meddling, as well as any possible Trump campaign collusion with it.

Bannon’s Out. But Did H.R. McMaster Win?

in mid-March, General McMaster tried to fire Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council. Mr. Cohen-Watnick, a holdover from Michael Flynn’s aborted stint as national security adviser, complained to Mr. Bannon and Jared Kushner, who prevailed on Mr. Trump to have him reinstated.

The idea that the 30-year-old Mr. Cohen-Watnick should be senior director for intelligence programs — a position held by senior career C.I.A. officers in the Obama administration and others — is dubious. Furthermore, General McMaster’s decision to get rid of Mr. Cohen-Watnick was well within his pay grade.

.. A few days after his reinstatement, Mr. Cohen-Watnick was one of three White House staffers who facilitated a briefing to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on the “incidental surveillance” of Trump campaign staff members, which Mr. Nunes used to distract news media and public attention from the committee’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

A little unpacking revealed how artlessly pretextual this distraction was: Mr. Nunes professed the need to learn new information about surveillance to warn the president, yet that very information was in the possession of the White House and accessible to Mr. Trump without Mr. Nunes’s intervention.

.. One defensible inference is that Mr. Trump wanted to keep a pliable ally as the White House’s principal liaison with the intelligence community.

To arrange Mr. Trump’s reversal of General McMaster’s dismissal of Mr. Cohen-Watnick, Mr. Bannon required no formal position on the National Security Council. Indeed, Mr. Cohen-Watnick’s other inside patron — Mr. Kushner — had no such position.

.. Rex W. Tillerson blithely channeled buzz phrases like “win-win solutions” and “mutual respect” in describing United States-China relations. The phraseology seemed to signal United States capitulation to China’s sphere-of-influence geopolitical stance

.. Matt Pottinger, the senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, had warned in a memo against using such language. The fact that no one seems to have paid him any heed suggests how little the council matters in the Trump White House.

.. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, implied it would be “silly” to advocate regime change due to the absence of practical alternatives. The next day, Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, in an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, struck a very different chord by condemning the regime and saying that the United States could take unilateral action should the Security Council fail to respond effectively. (Mr. Trump then dialed up his own language, saying his attitude toward Syria had “changed very much.”)

In each case, the stated position of one national security player did not mesh with that of another.

Among the National Security Council’s key tasks is to help the president arrive at a consensus on a given foreign policy issue by soliciting the views of different agencies and orchestrating compromises in formulating a clear and integrated approach.

.. And perhaps a lack of policy coordination is just the way it is in the Trump administration. But if that is the case, the situation calls into question the National Security Council’s very utility.

..

But for the institution to have real value, regardless of who the players are, Mr. Trump himself needs to respect it more than he apparently does.

Devin Nunes and Washington’s Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery inside an Enigma

since when is it improper or even unwise for an apprehensive intelligence official to bring information of some importance to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for external review — in a climate of endemic distrust of all intelligence agencies?

.. Nunes also said that the surveillance shown to him “was essentially a lot of information on the President-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”

.. Such a bombshell disclosure redirected the dominant narrative away from one solely about Russian collusion (itself the theme of daily and unsubstantiated leaks) to the possibly illegal means of seeking to substantiate that rumor

.. Such a bombshell disclosure redirected the dominant narrative away from one solely about Russian collusion (itself the theme of daily and unsubstantiated leaks) to the possibly illegal means of seeking to substantiate that rumor

.. If anyone were in Nunes’s position, he or she might doubt that the new Trump administration could fully trust Director Comey or others in the intelligence agencies to provide disinterested appraisals of such information, given that a number of intelligence officials may themselves, in theory, have been involved in the intercepts and their dissemination.

.. Nor would he necessarily believe that Representative Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) would be a reliable partner on the intelligence committee.

.. former CIA director John Brennan is on record having misled the nation about the nature of the drone program and collateral damage. He was forced to apologize in his past for his agency’s intercepts of information on U.S. Senate computers.

.. Schiff, who is the leading Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, has claimed that his committee has new evidence of Russian collusion with Team Trump ..  but he has not substantiated such allegations.

.. I think the very point of Nunes’s public announcement was to warn that what has so far been leaked to news agencies is not necessarily the truth

Democrats Shouldn’t Dismiss Nunes’s Spying Claims So Quickly

If true, this isn’t the wiretapping of Trump Tower, as Trump claimed in his infamous tweet a few weeks ago, but it is spying in any commonly understood sense of the word.

.. While the answers might not vindicate Trump, they are legitimate questions. If it turns out intel wasn’t properly minimized, this is the kind of abuse that civil libertarians have long warned undermines Americans’ privacy, a Fourth Amendment right.

.. Intelligence agencies cannot share details about American citizens with no foreign-intelligence value. If Nunes is right, how

.. It could very well be that Nunes is attempting to give the president cover. He’s a partisan, after all. That doesn’t make the incident potentially less serious.