Tuesday Reads: A Blizzard of NewsPosted: March 13, 2018
It’s March 13, and we’re under a blizzard warning here in Greater Boston. The winds are gusting at 60mph; and I can’t see out my windows right now–all I see is white. It’s a good day to hunker down and read a good book. I’ve got a copy of Russian Roulette, by Michael Isakoff and David Corn, on my Kindle, so I’m all set (The hardcover appears to be sold out on Amazon). Yahoo News has a new revelation from the book: Papadopoulos says that Trump personally encouraged him to arrange meeting with Putin, new book reports.
George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and potentially a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, told federal investigators that before the election, Donald Trump personally encouraged him to pursue a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new book being published Tuesday.
Papadopoulos’s account to Mueller — as reported in “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff and Mother Jones’ David Corn — contradicts the public accounts of what took place at a critical meeting of Trump’s foreign policy team on March 31, 2016. It was at that meeting that Papadopoulos first informed Trump and the then candidate’s other foreign policy advisers that he had contacts in Britain who could arrange a summit between the GOP candidate and Putin.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Papadopoulos told Mueller’s investigators that Trump encouraged him, saying he found the idea “interesting,” according to the book, which cites sources familiar with his questioning by Mueller’s investigators.
Trump looked at Sessions, as if he expected him to follow up with Papadopoulos, and Sessions nodded in response, the authors write. Sessions has said he has “no clear recollection” of the exchange with Papadopoulos. A White House official said that others at the meeting remember it differently than Papadopoulos.
More turnover in the Trump administration: Rex Tillerson has been fired, to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. MSNBC and CNN are reporting that Tillerson learned about it from Trump’s tweet, but the Washington Post says he was told on Friday (see story below).
Some twitter reactions:
The Washington Post: Trump ousts Tillerson, will replace him as secretary of state with CIA chief Pompeo.
President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate negotiations with North Korea, White House officials said Tuesday.
Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled diplomat cut short a trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.
The reason for the latest rift was unclear. A spokesman for Tillerson said the secretary of state “had every intention of staying” in his job and was “unaware of the reason” for his firing.
Pompeo is much more of “a hawk” according to Mark Landler of The New York Times last November: Replacing Tillerson With Pompeo Would Supplant a Moderate With a Hawk.
For all his political and bureaucratic stumbles, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has been a steady voice of moderation in how the Trump administration engages with the world.
That voice will be lost if, as expected, President Trump replaces Mr. Tillerson at the State Department with Mike Pompeo, a hard-line former Republican congressman who has brought an avowedly political edge to the Central Intelligence Agency, where he is the director.
Mr. Pompeo, a West Point graduate best known for savaging Hillary Clinton’s response to the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of state, has called for the Iran nuclear agreement to be ripped up, played down talk of Russia’s interference in the 2016 electionand suggested that regime change in North Korea would be a welcome development.
Those views have put him in good stead with Mr. Trump, whom White House aides said has come to value Mr. Pompeo’s pungent opinions and hard-charging style during his presidential daily briefings. Mr. Trump, by contrast, has publicly undermined Mr. Tillerson while the secretary of state has responded with thinly veiled contempt….
“Pompeo has done nothing but talk about how we need to take the gloves off,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “There’s no reason to believe he would change his views if you put him in charge of the State Department.”
Mr. Pompeo’s hard-edge views, as the nation’s chief diplomat, might reinforce, rather than restrain, Mr. Trump’s instincts. That could further stiffen American policy toward Iran, where Mr. Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, urged Mr. Trump not to scrap the nuclear deal negotiated by President Barack Obama.
As for Gina Haspel, whom Trump has nominated to replace Pompeo at the CIA, Matthew Rosenberg wrote at The New York Times on Feb. 2, 2017: New C.I.A. Deputy Director, Gina Haspel, Had Leading Role in Torture.
As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand….
The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.
Over the past eight years, C.I.A. leaders defended dozens of agency personnel who had taken part in the now-banned torture program, even as they vowed never to resume the same harsh interrogation methods. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.
Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.
There’s more at the link.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Trump’s personal assistant John McEntee was
escorted out of the White House on Monday, two senior administration officials said. The cause of the firing was an unspecified security issue, said a third White House official with knowledge of the situation.
The WSJ article is behind a paywall; here’s a bit more from Political Wire:
“President Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, was escorted out of the White House on Monday… The cause of the firing was an unspecified security issue,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“Mr. McEntee was removed from the White House grounds on Monday afternoon without being allowed to collect his belongings… He left without his jacket.”
Interesting. Politico reports that McEntee will now work on Trump’s reelection campaign: Trump body man Johnny McEntee leaving White House for campaign.
President Donald Trump’s personal aide and body man John McEntee — known within the West Wing simply as Johnny — is leaving the White House and taking a position on Trump’s re-election campaign, the campaign announced Tuesday.
McEntee is the latest member of Trump’s original inner circle, which included communications director Hope Hicks and bodyguard Keith Schiller, to leave the White House.
An administration official confirmed that McEntee was abruptly escorted out of the White House on Monday, but did not know why. Another official said he would be mailed his belongings.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that McEntee’s departure was triggered by a security issue.
The move comes at a time of intense turbulence within the West Wing and throughout the administration. Trump announced Tuesday morning that he was putting forward CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and also said he is considering CNBC pundit and outside economic adviser Larry Kudlow to succeed outgoing National Economic Director Gary Cohn.
Read more about McEntee at Politico. Meanwhile, I just found out what the “security issue” is.
OK. Then why is Kushner still working the White House? Oh yeah–nepotism.
Of course yesterday’s big news was that the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee decided to shut down their Russia investigation without bothering to notify the Democrats on the committee. Jonathan Chait: House Republicans Conclude Pretend Russia Investigation, Declare Trump Innocent.
House Republicans have barely even pretended to investigate Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections, and now even the bare pretense is coming to an end. The GOP majority is releasing a report that will declare no collusion took place between Russia and the Trump campaign. Indeed, the report will go even farther and insist Russia did not even want to help Trump win at all, contradicting the assessment of U.S. intelligence.
This outcome was completely predictable from the outset, when the committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes, snuck off to the White House late at night to produce an explosive but eventually debunked charge that Trump had been the victim of nefarious “unmasking” by Obama officials in 2016. Nunes continued to churn out explosive but false countercharges depicting the Russia investigation as a Deep State conspiracy against the completely innocent Trump campaign.
Read more sarcasm at New York Magazine. John Brennan reacted on Twitter:
One more before I wrap this up. Rick Wilson: The Walls Are Closing In on Trump.
The Fox and Trump media enterprise today launched into a spasm of complete ecstasy as the House Intelligence Committee declared their investigation of Russian interference in our elections and their contacts with and collaboration with the Trump campaign over, done, solved. In their alternate reality, they’re declaring the CASE CLOSED.
They might not want to get too far over their skis on this one because both the Senate and Bob Mueller are still taking this question seriously, as opposed to the clownish covering of Donald Trump’s ample ass by the Republicans on the House Intel Committee. Its chairman Devin Nunes and the committee itself are both hopelessly compromised. Nunes has done everything in his power to cover for the President, his staff, and their Russian contacts, and to elide Vladimir Putin’s stated intent and obvious actions.
When secret agent man Devin Nunes raced to the White House to break a phony story of illegal and inappropriate surveillance from a mysterious “whistleblower,” it turned out the super-secret intel he set his ass on fire to reveal came from… wait for it… the White House itself. Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, both employees of the White House, provided Nunes with top secret material outside the approved channels to push one of many of the White House’s endless variations on the “no collusion—no puppet, you’re the puppet” defense.
Read the rest at The Daily Beast.
What are you hearing? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.