Lazy Caturday ReadsPosted: May 25, 2019
Trump has left the country for a few days; perhaps we’ll get a break from his insane tantrums over this Memorial Day weekend. Donald and Melania are in Japan for a ceremonial state visit.
The New York Times: For Trump’s Japan Trip, Abe Piles on the Flattery. But to What End?
Significant challenges lie ahead, especially as the United States and Japan begin thorny trade talks and Mr. Trump confronts new provocations from North Korea.
So to keep close ties with Mr. Trump — Mr. Abe’s occasional golf buddy and the world leader on the other end of more than 40 discussions or visits since the 2016 election, according to White House officials — the prime minister has planned a visit dripping in a level of ceremony that money can’t buy.
All of Mr. Abe’s plans are meant to remind Mr. Trump, the leader of Japan’s most important ally, not to forget about his closest friend in Asia. There will be sumo wrestling with a customized Trump trophy. There will be a meeting with the new Japanese emperor. There will be a state banquet.
For Mr. Abe, the flattery is the product of close study of a president who sees diplomacy as an entirely personal endeavor. But two and a half years into the relationship, some observers at home and abroad are questioning whether the overtures have paid off.
With Japan’s economy in a slowdown, Mr. Abe is pursuing a bilateral trade deal with Mr. Trump and is trying to ward off a longstanding threat by the Trump administration to enact damaging auto tariffs. White House officials have said not to expect such a trade-related accord to come out of Mr. Trump’s visit this week.
On matters of security, Mr. Trump’s overtures to Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, continue to rattle the Japanese, who have feared becoming sidelined. White House officials this week stressed the importance of the alliance in deterring aggression from Japan’s neighbors, but emphasized that this visit is a heavily ceremonial one.
Apparently, staff who have go along with Trump when he travels aren’t looking forward to their time with him on Air Force One. CNN: Inside Trump’s Air Force One: ‘It’s like being held captive.’
Not always an eager traveler, Trump has complained in the past about the pace of his foreign travel or the accommodations arranged for him abroad. It’s his aides, however, who sometimes dread boarding Air Force One for a lengthy flight overseas, knowing full well the boss will make little use of the bed wedged into the nose of the plane.
“It’s like being held captive,” one official said of traveling with the President on Air Force One.
Current and former officials have described White House trips as grueling endeavors accompanied by long hours, but several privately said the flights overseas are easily the worst. The duration can stretch nearly 20 hours. Sleeping space is limited. The televisions are streaming Fox News constantly. And if the headlines flashing across the bottom of the screen are unfavorable to their boss, aides know it’s time to buckle up for a turbulent ride.
The President boarded Air Force One Friday for the 14-hour flight to Tokyo, and his staff were gearing up for a particularly hellish ride. An event the previous day was supposed to focus on relief for farmers who have been hurt by tariffs, but it quickly devolved into a venting session for Trump, who called the Democratic House speaker “crazy” and said Democrats were trying to inflict a “thousand stabs” on him.
“Keep stabbing,” he said in the Roosevelt Room, while surrounded by farmers in cowboy hats.
Jonathan Chait summarizes the many complaints: Trump Staff Dreads Traveling Overseas With Toddler President.
The experience of overseas travel with Trump is almost exactly like traveling overseas with a poorly behaved toddler:
Trump won’t stop watching television. The screen-addicted president just keeps doing what he does at home, which is binge-watch TV for hours and get angry. The difference is that, on the plane, they can’t get away:
Trump will spend hours reviewing cable news coverage recorded on a TiVo-like device or sifting through cardboard boxes of newspapers and magazines that have been lugged aboard. He’ll summon sleeping staffers to his office at moments the rest of the plane is dark, impatient to discuss his upcoming meetings or devise a response to something he saw in the media.
Like at home, Trump’s method of governing is to see things on television that anger him and order his staffers to make them go away: “Trump has long insisted that he is treated unfairly by the news media, and if he sees something on television that bothers him — ‘which he invariably will,’ one official quipped — he instructs his staff to fix it, no matter if they are at the White House or flying over the Atlantic Ocean,” according to CNN.
Trump won’t go to sleep. The president and First Lady are the only passengers equipped with lie-flat beds. Despite this, Trump resists his staff’s attempts to get him to go to sleep. Trump “will hold court for hours on end, despite staffers encouraging him to join first lady Melania Trump in the private cabin and get some rest,” the story notes. “He will not go to sleep,” reports a source. Unfortunately, Trump is well past the age at which pediatricians recommend sleep-training.
Other complaints: Trump hates foreign TV and foreign food and he can’t stand it when he has to sit through meetings that aren’t all about him. Read more details at New York Magazine.
Natasha Bertrand: Trump puts DOJ on crash course with intelligence agencies.
President Donald Trump’s declassification order Thursday night has set up a showdown between his own Justice Department and the intelligence community that could trigger resignations and threaten the CIA’s ability to conduct its core business — managing secret intelligence and sources.
Trump’s order directed intelligence agencies to fully comply with Attorney General William Barr’s look at “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election — a probe that Trump’s allies see as a necessary check on government overreach but that critics lambaste as an attempt to create the impression of scandal. Numerous former intelligence officials called the move “unprecedented,” saying it grants the attorney general sweeping powers over the nation’s secrets, subverts the intelligence community and raises troubling legal questions….
“I could see something of a showdown happening here, where the CIA says, ‘We’re not comfortable with the declassification of this material and we won’t provide it without the assurance that you won’t declassify it,’” said a former senior Justice Department official who served under both Trump and President Barack Obama, and requested anonymity to discuss the directive more freely. “They feel that these are their sources, their connections.”
Later on Friday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a carefully worded statement, confirming that his agencies will turn over “all of the appropriate information” for the DOJ review. But, Coats added, “I am confident that the Attorney General will work with the [intelligence community] in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk.”
Read the whole thing at Politico.
It appeared unprecedented to give an official who is not in charge of an intelligence agency the power to reveal its secrets. Current and former intelligence officials said they were concerned that Barr could selectively declassify information that paints the intelligence agencies and the FBI in a bad light without giving a complete picture of their efforts in 2016.
Officials are also concerned about the possible compromise of intelligence sources, including those deep inside the Russian government.
Ordinarily, any review of intelligence activities would be done by the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. But in giving that authority to Barr, the president has turned to someone he perceives as a loyalist and who has already said that he thinks the government spied on the Trump campaign.
“This is a complete slap in the face to the director of national intelligence,” said James Baker, the former FBI general counsel. “So why is the attorney general doing the investigation? Probably because the president trusts the attorney general more,” said Baker, now a director at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
Click on the link to read the rest.
Trump’s desire to investigate the investigators who uncovered the Russian plot to elect him president has taken on a special urgency since the release of the Mueller Report, with Trump repeatedly accusing government officials of “treason,” and the White House declaring: “This whole thing was a TAKEDOWN ATTEMPT at the President of the United States.”
On Thursday night, after Trump had spent days excoriating the purportedly “treasonous” investigators by name, he announced he had granted Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the Russia probe. The White House also stated that Trump had directed intelligence agencies to “quickly and fully” cooperate with the investigation into the investigation.
It’s reminiscent of Nixon’s secret scheme to “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies,” as then-White House Counsel John Dean put it, by manipulating “grant availability, federal contract, litigation, prosecution, etc.” Nixon directed the IRS provide potentially damaging information against some of his enemies. Although the agency’s commissioner refused Nixon’s demand, the scheme became part of the impeachment case against Nixon, which accused him of illegally endeavoring “to obtain [information] from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.”
While much of Nixon’s scheme was forestalled, Trump appears poised to effectuate his. Barr recently named Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham (best known for investigating the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger) to head up an inquiry into the “origins” of the Russia investigation. Unnamed government officials have attempted to minimize the significance of the inquiry by stating to the press that it does not currently entail the use of grand jury subpoenas, but that of course could change at any time—indeed, Senator Lindsey Graham is publicly demanding as much.
Barr, meanwhile, has become remarkably open about his intent to follow the president’s lead by making the investigators the focus of as much opprobrium as possible.
First Amendment advocates are deeply concerned that Trump and Barr’s Justice Department are using Julian Assange to set a course that will rein in investigative journalism. As much as I despise Assange, I have to agree that charging him with espionage could very well lead to frightening attempts by Trump and Barr to control the press.
Assange is being charged with publishing material that was leaked to him, not with stealing the information himself. That is exactly what happened when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, which had been stolen and leaked by Daniel Ellsburg in 1971.
Elizabeth Goitein at The Washington Post: The U.S. says Julian Assange ‘is no journalist.’ Here’s why that shouldn’t matter.
On Thursday, Julian Assange became the first person to face prosecution in the United States for publishing classified information, although newspapers routinely publish government secrets that have been leaked to them. Defending the unprecedented move, Assistant Attorney General John Demers declared that “Julian Assange is no journalist.” Millions of Americans no doubt agree. And yet, in making this distinction, the Justice Department is drawing a line the First Amendment simply doesn’t draw — and threatening the freedom of every news outlet in the process.
The federal indictment alleges that Assange solicited and received classified information from Chelsea Manning and published that information through WikiLeaks. The documents he published included official assessments of detainees at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; files relating to rules of engagement for U.S. troops in the Iraq War; and State Department cables. Some revealed damning information about the conduct of American soldiers and other government officials. In a few cases, they included the names of foreign citizens who provided the U.S. with intelligence.
Assange is being charged under the Espionage Act, a law passed during World War I to punish spies and traitors. But in recent years, the law increasingly has been used against government employees who leak classified information to the media. The Obama administration brought eight prosecutions for media leaks — more than all previous administrations combined — and the Trump administration has upped the ante, bringing seven prosecutions in the space of two years.
Please read the rest at the WaPo. Trump and Barr are acting out Trump’s claim that the press is “the enemy of the people.”
That’a all I have room for today, although there is lots more breaking news. What stories have you been following?