Lazy Saturday Reads: Obama’s “Mysterious Reluctance” Helped Give Us Trump.Posted: June 24, 2017
I think I’m finally past the stage of dreading what I’ll learn every morning when I go on the internet or turn on the TV. After 5 months of Trump, I’ve begun to accept that every day there’ll be new and horrifying revelations; but I’m also beginning to understand how quickly everything is spinning out of control while we wait for this monster to be brought down somehow.
After the blockbuster Washington Post story yesterday, we now know for sure what many of have suspected: President Obama’s cautiousness helped the Russians get Trump elected. In August of 2016, the CIA informed Obama that Russia was actively working to damage Hillary Clinton and, if possible, get Trump elected. Furthermore, they knew for a fact that the election meddling was happening under the direct orders of Vladimir Putin.
And what did Obama do? As always, he dithered endlessly and tried to reach a “bipartisan” solution with Republicans. When Mitch McConnell actually questioned the validity of the Intelligence community findings, Obama hesitated to take strong action against Russia and inform the American people of what he knew was happening because he feared being called “partisan.” From the article:
At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks….
It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump.
Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.
But in the end, in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic.
Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.
In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.
We’re stuck in this place because Obama let Mitch McConnell veto his chosen response.
“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.
Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.
On Sept. 22, two California Democrats — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff — did what they couldn’t get the White House to do. They issued a statement making clear that they had learned from intelligence briefings that Russia was directing a campaign to undermine the election, but they stopped short of saying to what end.
A week later, McConnell and other congressional leaders issued a cautious statement that encouraged state election officials to ensure their networks were “secure from attack.” The release made no mention of Russia and emphasized that the lawmakers “would oppose any effort by the federal government” to encroach on the states’ authorities.
Obama was President of the United States. He had the entire Intelligence community behind him. He didn’t need Republican approval. But he hesitated and now we have the Trump autocracy in charge of our country.
All of this because everyone assumed that Hillary Clinton would magically overcome Trump’s vicious lies about her at the same time she was fighting back against a Russian attack on our country with no support from the media and very little backup from the Democratic President who supposedly wanted her to succeed him.
Here’s Julia Ioffe at The Atlantic: It Took Two to Make Russian Meddling Effective.
If there is one thing TheWashington Post’sstory on the Obama administration’s anemic response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election makes clear, it’s that it took two to make the meddling effective.
There is a reason the tactics Russia used on the American elections—which are similar to things they’ve done in former Soviet republics and in Europe—are referred to as “asymmetric warfare”: They embody the art of leverage, of doing a lot with a little. As former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress in May, the Russians “succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and at minimal cost.” The whole operation, according to Clapper, cost a mere $200 million—a pittance in military spending terms. But the Russians used that money not the way a conventional army would, but the way a band of guerrillas would, feeling around for pressure points, and pressing—or not. Though, as Bloombergreported this month, the Russians were clearly exploring ways to attack voting infrastructure in parts of the country, it still appears they ultimately decided not to pull the trigger, sticking instead with the hack-and-dump and the manufacturing of fake news. “It was ad hoc,” an Obama administration official told me shortly after the inauguration. “They were kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.”
And then there was Obama’s mysterious reluctance, as described by many of his advisers, “to put his thumb on the scale” and influence the election, even as he and Michelle Obama were campaigning for Hillary Clinton all over the country and coining anti-Trump memes like “Come on, man.” What difference would a thumb on the scale have made when he already had his other nine fingers on it?
Obama’s “mysterious reluctance” is part of his essential personality. We watched this throughout his first term and he repeatedly came very close to giving away the store to the GOP just to demonstrate his willingness to be “bipartisan.”
Now what do we do? We have an illegitimate president who is never going to lift a finger to prevent Russia from continuing to basically take over our government, and we have midterm elections coming up very soon.
The Trump administration has taken little meaningful action to prevent Russian hacking, leaking and disruption in the next national election in 2018, despite warnings from intelligence officials that it will happen again, officials and experts told NBC News.
“This attack is really the political equivalent of 9/11 — it is deadly, deadly serious,” said Michael Vickers, a career intelligence official who was the Pentagon’s top intelligence official in the Obama administration. “The Russians will definitely be back, given the success they had…I don’t see much evidence of a response.”
According to recent Congressional testimony, Trump has shown no interest in the question of how to prevent future election interference by Russia or another foreign power. Former FBI Director James Comey told senators that Trump never asked him about how to stop a future Russian election cyber attack, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sits on the National Security Council, testified that he has not received a classified briefing on Russian election interference.
Dozens of state officials told NBC News they have received little direction from Washington about election security.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said this week he had never addressed the matter with Trump.
That apparent top-level indifference, coupled with a failure to fill key jobs at the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, has resulted in a government paralyzed by inaction when it comes to protecting the next election, experts and government officials told NBC News.
“The Trump administration is woefully missing in action,” said Gregory Miller, co-founder of the Silicon Valley based Open Source Election Technology Institute, a non-profit research group.
“It isn’t happening,” said David Jefferson, a voter security expert and computer scientist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing, when asked whether he saw a U.S. government effort to address the problem.
I’ll end with two thoughtful articles by conservatives on the Trump problem.
Day by day, revelation after revelation, the legitimacy of the Trump presidency is seeping away. The question of what to do about this loss is becoming ever more urgent and frightening.
The already thick cloud of discredit over the Trump presidency thickened deeper Friday, June 23. The Washington Post reported that the CIA told President Obama last year that Vladimir Putin had personally and specifically instructed his intelligence agencies to intervene in the U.S. presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
Whether the Trump campaign knowingly coordinated its activities with the Russians remains uncertain. The Trump campaign may have been a wholly passive and unwitting beneficiary. Yes, it’s curious that the Russians allegedly directed their resources to the Rust Belt states also targeted by the Trump campaign. But it’s conceivable they were all just reading the same polls on FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics.
Frum points out that others in the government are working around Trump’s insanity as best they can, but how long can the government function when it’s so crippled from the top and from foreign cyber- and propaganda attacks?
The U.S. government is already osmotically working around the presidency, a process enabled by the president’s visible distaste for the work of governance. The National Security Council staff is increasingly a double-headed institution, a zone of struggle between Kushner-Flynn-Bannon types on one side, and a growing staff of capable, experienced, and Russia-skeptical functionaries on the other. The Senate has voted 97-2 to restrict the president’s authority to relax Russia sanctions. It seems the president has been persuaded to take himself out of the chain of command in the escalating military operations in Afghanistan. National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster recently assured the nation that Trump could not have done much harm when he blabbed a vital secret to the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office, precisely because the president was not briefed on crucial “sources and methods” information.
In their way, these workarounds are almost as dangerous to the American system of government as the Trump presidency itself. They tend to reduce the president to the status of an absentee emperor while promoting his subordinates into shoguns who exercise power in his name. Maybe that is the least-bad practicable solution to the unprecedented threat of a presidency-under-suspicion. But what a terrible price for the failure of so many American institutions—not least the voters!—to protect the country in 2016 from Russia’s attack on its election and its democracy.
Bruce Bartlett at Politico: ‘Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas.’
Bartlett was among those of us–including Obama–who assumed Hillary would win in the end and then we could deal with the Russia situation. Like the rest of us, he was shocked and horrified by the outcome of the election.
Almost everything that has happened since November 8 has been the inverse of what I’d imagined. Trump didn’t lose; he won. The Republican Party isn’t undergoing some sort of reckoning over what it believes; his branch of the Republican Party has taken control. Most troubling, perhaps, is that rather than reassert themselves, the moderate Republicans have almost all rolled over entirely.
Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.
And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.
And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.n
Please go read the rest at Politico.
Sorry this got so long . . . What stories are you following today?