Tuesday Reads: Intel Chiefs Testify, The Rape Culture Presidency, and Trump’s Horrifying Budget ProposalPosted: February 13, 2018
The illustrations in this post are Deborah Julian’s parodies of famous art works.
The U.S. Intelligence chiefs are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. They are warning that Russia will attack the 2018 midterm elections. NBC: U.S. intel agencies expect Russia to escalate election meddling efforts.
The nation’s intelligence chiefs are presenting their view of the top threats confronting the nation before the Senate intelligence committee, where they are likely to face tough questioning about whether the Trump administration is responding adequately to the Russian efforts.
U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Russia will conduct “bolder and more disruptive cyber operations during the next year,” targeting Ukraine, NATO and the United States, the assessment says.
“We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views,” the statement says.
“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-U.S. political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions.”
The assessment says that Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised, “is likely to increase his use of repression and intimidation to contend with domestic discontent over corruption, poor social services, and a sluggish economy with structural deficiencies”
It adds that Putin will “continue to manipulate the media, distribute perks to maintain elite support, and elevate younger officials to convey an image of renewal. He is also likely to expand the government’s legal basis for repression and to enhance his capacity to intimidate and monitor political threats, perhaps using the threat of ‘extremism’ or the 2018 World Cup to justify his actions.”
This year’s midterm elections are a “potential target” for Russian influence operations, with Moscow likely to exploit social media and other platforms to fuel divisions, according to the top U.S. spy.
Russia is probably the most capable and aggressive of all the countries capable of such operations, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in prepared remarks for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. In a review of the intelligence community’s annual assessment of global threats, he was to appear alongside officials, including Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Of course no matter what the Intel chiefs say, the “president” is working to help Putin and Russia and Republicans in Congress are working to protect the “president,” so we’re probably going to continue to be vulnerable to the Russian attacks.
“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes,” Coats said. “We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views.”
The testimony underscores continued unanimity among American intelligence agencies that Russia conducted an extensive campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has dismissed the continuing investigation into Russian interference as a “witch hunt,” especially the suggestion that anyone close to him colluded in the effort.
One bit of news that has come out of the hearing so far is that the FBI’s timeline on the Rob Porter abuse scandal is very different from what is being claimed by the White House.
I haven’t seen any news articles about this yet, but they’ll be coming and the White house will continue to be overwhelmed by this growing scandal. Some interesting reads on the abuse story and its aftereffects:
Laura Chapin at U.S. News: The Rape-Culture Presidency.
In the words of “The West Wing’s” C.J. Cregg, I’m not shocked Trump is defending former White House aide Rob Porter against claims of domestic violence. I’m barely surprised.
In 2016, The New York Times posted an uncensored account of Trump crowds at his campaign events. Among the frequent epithets were shouts of “Kill Her!” and “Trump that Bitch,” referring to Hillary Clinton. As local reporter Saja Hindi posted, a Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado, featured 12-year-old boys wearing T-shirts that read, “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica” on the front and “Trump that Bitch” on the back.
Just as many reporters and pundits were reluctant to accept the core of Trump’s appeal was racism – we kept hearing economic anxiety as an excuse – here’s another ugly truth they don’t want to accept: Trump’s appeal to his base is partly rape culture and the abuse of women. Rewire writer Imani Gandy said that Trump is the walking, talking embodiment of rape culture. That’s who he is. That’s why his hardcore supporters like him.
It’s quite a good rant. I hope you’ll read the rest.
Peter Baker at The New York Times: A Whirlwind Envelops the White House, and the Revolving Door Spins.
The doors at the White House have been swinging a lot lately. A deputy chief of staff moved on. A speechwriter resigned. The associate attorney general stepped down. The chief of staff offered to quit. And that was just Friday.
All of that came after the departure of Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who cleared out his office last week amid accusations of spousal abuse. The White House had overlooked reported problems with his security clearance last year in part, officials said, because of a reluctance to lose yet another senior aide, particularly one seen as so professional and reliable.
More than a year into his administration, President Trump is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades. He has struggled to fill openings, unwilling to hire Republicans he considers disloyal and unable to entice Republicans who consider him unstable. Those who do come to work for him often do not last long, burning out from a volatile, sometimes cutthroat environment exacerbated by tweets and subpoenas.
To visit the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the granite, slate and cast iron edifice across West Executive Avenue from the White House where most of the president’s staff works, at times feels like walking through a ghost town. The hallways do not bustle as much as in past administrations. The budget director is doing double duty as the acting head of the consumer protection agency. The personnel director is doing triple duty, also overseeing the offices of political affairs and public liaison.
“We have vacancies on top of vacancies,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House turnover over the last six administrations. “You have initial vacancies, you have people who left in the first year and now you have people who are leaving in the second year.”
Eliana Johnson at Politico: Kelly increasingly isolated as Porter scandal rages on.
Turbulence in this West Wing is typically generated by President Donald Trump, but for the past week, it’s been chief of staff John Kelly—the man brought in to be a steadying hand—who’s inspiring what one White House official described as a crisis of confidence.
While the president often makes a hash of the truth, aides took Kelly’s word at face value until they were confronted with zigzagging accounts of the events leading up to former staff secretary Rob Porter’s resignation—and Kelly’s role in them.
In the hours immediately after the Daily Mail published a photograph of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off-the-record meeting in the West Wing with Porter and four reporters: the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender. In that meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.
Kelly told staff two days later that once he’d been briefed on allegations of abuse against Porter by his two ex-wives, “he was gone 40 minutes later.”
The White House declined to comment on Porter’s meeting with reporters, including whether or not Kelly was aware it took place. But two White House officials said the mixed messages are symptomatic of the extent to which the White House has left Kelly to shoulder the blame for the Porter mess.
Read all the details at Politico.
The New York Times: Accusations Against Aide Renew Attention on White House Security Clearances.
One week after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted that he was “not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children,” calling such claims “a typically false news story.” But he said nothing at the time about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Nearly 15 months later, Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation.
Mr. Kushner’s status was similar to the status of others in the White House, including Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned last week after his two former wives alleged that he physically and emotionally abused them during their marriages.
People familiar with the security clearance process in Mr. Trump’s White House said it was widely acknowledged among senior aides that raising questions about unresolved vetting issues in a staff member’s background would implicitly reflect on Mr. Kushner’s status, as well — a situation made more awkward because Mr. Kushner is married to the president’s daughter Ivanka.
Click on the link to read more about Kushner’s troubles.
I’ll end with two stories on the horrifying Trump budget proposal:
The Washington Post: Trump’s budget hits poor Americans the hardest.
President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work.
The Trump budget proposal would gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion in 2019 — equivalent to 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year. It calls for cuts of more than $213.5 billion over the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In addition, Trump is proposing a full-scale redesign of SNAP, which provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans. For the last 40 years, the program has allowed beneficiaries to use SNAP benefits at grocery stores as if they were cash. Under the budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture would use a portion of those benefits to buy and deliver a package of U.S.-grown commodities to SNAP households that receive $90 or more in assistance each month, using the government’s buying power to obtain common foods at lower costs.
“This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations,” said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It doesn’t reflect the right values.”
Because Trump doesn’t have values.
Russell Berman at The Atlantic: All the Trump Budget Cuts Congress Will Ignore.
Within the thousands of pages the White House transmitted to Congress on Monday morning as part of President Trump’s second annual budget request, there is a line that pretty much sums up the whole ritual.
“Many of the eliminations and reductions in this volume reflect a continuation of policies proposed in the 2018 President’s Budget that have not yet been enacted
by the Congress,” the sentence reads. It’s included in the introduction of a 222-page document titled “Major Savings and Reforms.”
Those are all the cuts the Trump administration is proposing, and they’re going nowhere.
Trump again wants to take a meat cleaver to the Environmental Protection Agency, chopping its budget by one-third. He’s asking Congress to scrap entirely community-development block grants and heating assistance for low-income housing. And he wants to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and a slew of other independent agencies.
The proposals prompted an outcry from Democrats, advocacy groups, and activists. But there wasn’t much cause for alarm: Congress ignored most of them last year, and lawmakers are even more likely to ignore them again this year.
For good measure, Trump is proposing hundreds of billions in new cuts to Medicare, a program he vowed as a candidate to leave alone and which he generally laid off a year ago. But those reductions, too, aren’t going to happen.
Much more at the link.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?