Lazy Saturday Reads: tRump, Comey, and Kompromat

Resistance, by Gianluca Zanna

Resistance, by Gianluca Zanna

Good Morning!!

It looks like one thing we won’t have many of in the tRump era is slow news days. We are on the brink of something big–much bigger than Watergate, Iran-Contra, or any other scandal in my lifetime at least. We must brace ourselves to stand firm in the face of autocracy and the threat of actual tyranny. Watergate began slowly until the dam broke and it began escalating rapidly. This isn’t even starting that slowly.

Already we can see that tRump is planning some kind of real takeover–he’s already signaled a purge of the diplomatic corps, the state department, and the energy department. He has even ordered the commander of the DC National Guard to step down in the middle of the inauguration. 

The Army general who heads the D.C. National Guard and has an integral part in overseeing the inauguration said Friday that he will be removed from command effective at 12:01 p.m. Jan. 20, just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz’s departure will come in the middle of the presidential ceremony — classified as a national special security event — and while thousands of his troops are deployed to help protect the nation’s capital during an inauguration he has spent months helping to plan.

“The timing is extremely unusual,” Schwartz said in an interview Friday morning, confirming a memo announcing his ouster that was obtained by The Washington Post. During the inauguration, Schwartz will command not only members of the D.C. Guard but also 5,000 unarmed troops dispatched from across the country to help. He also will oversee military air support protecting Washington during the inauguration….

A person close to the transition said transition officials wanted to keep Schwartz in the job for continuity, but the Army pushed to replace him.

Schwartz, who was appointed to head the Guard by President George W. Bush in 2008, maintained the position through President Obama’s two terms. He said his orders came from the Pentagon in the form of an email that names his interim successor, a brigadier general, who takes over at 12:01 p.m. next Friday.

I don’t know if the fact that Schwartz is African American had any role in this decision, but the question must be asked.

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And then there is James Comey. Has this man been compromised by tRump, his fear of the New York FBI office, the Russians, or all three? As Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money wrote yesterday, it’s way past time for Obama to fire Comey for cause.

James Comey, who threw the election to Donald Trump by repeatedly violating norms and regulations to falsely imply that Hillary Clinton was a crook, refuses to be candid about the FBI’s investigation Trump’s relationship with the Russians even in private:

Embattled FBI director James Comey has refused to clarify whether his organization is investigating Donald Trump’s ties to Russia in a closed briefing on Friday for members of Congress, angering legislators who recall his high-profile interjections about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Guardian has learned.

Comey’s lack of candor in a classified setting, intended to brief members on the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump, follows a public rebuff this week to senators seeking clarification.

In that earlier hearing, Comey said he would “never comment” on a potential FBI investigation “in an open forum like this”, raising expectations among some attendees of Friday’s briefing that Comey would put the issue to rest in a classified setting.

But according to sources attending the closed-door Friday morning meeting, that was not the case. As such, frustration with Comey was bipartisan and heated, adding to intense pressure on the director of the FBI, whose conduct in the 2016 election itself is now being investigated by an independent US justice department watchdog.

Even in post-parody America, this is astounding conduct.

Revolution, by Borna Demel

Revolution, by Borna Demel

After yesterday’s closed door hearing with intelligence officials, House Democrats stormed out, visibly enraged.

The Hill: Wasserman Schultz confronted Comey about Russian hacking.

The former head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) confronted FBI Director James Comey on Friday during a confidential briefing on Russian hacking that left many Democrats calling for Comey’s scalp, several lawmakers told The Hill.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was forced to resign last summer as head of the DNC amid the hacking scandal, told Comey that he should have come to her directly once the FBI was aware of the breach, just as he had done with other hacking victims….

“You let us down!” one Democrat yelled to Comey during the tense exchange, according to one attendee.

Another Democrat described the scene: “Essentially Debbie asked, how was it that the FBI knew that the DNC was being hacked and they didn’t tell her? He gave some bulls–t explanation, ‘That’s our standard, we called this one, we called that one’ — [she said] ‘Well, why didn’t you call me?’ ”

Recall that the only notification the FBI gave the DNC was a phone call from an agent to an IT guy who didn’t know whether the call was legitimate or a prank.

Yesterday, we also learned that top tRump aide Gen. Michael Flynn has been in in “frequent contact” with the Russian ambassador. The AP reports:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

After initially denying that Michael Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke Dec. 29, a Trump official said late Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions.

It’s not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office. But repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the U.S. for the move, a decision Trump quickly praised.

More broadly, Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the incoming administration has already begun to lay the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow. That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including Republicans, have expressed outrage over intelligence officials’ assessment that Putin launched a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the U.S. election to benefit Trump.

In an interview published Friday evening by The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he might do away with Obama’s sanctions if Russia works with the U.S. on battling terrorists and achieving other goals.

“If Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions?” he asked.

In the same interview, tRump said he is not “committed to the One China policy,” according to NBC news this morning.

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A couple of updates on the James Bond-like spy who gathered information on the likelihood that tRump has been compromised by the Russian government:

David Corn at Mother Jones: The Spy Who Wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It Was “Hair-Raising” Stuff.

Last fall, a week before the election, I broke the story that a former Western counterintelligence official had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump. The memos noted that this spy’s sources had provided him with information indicating that Russian intelligence had mounted a yearslong operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump and had gathered secret compromising material on Trump. They also alleged that Trump and his inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin. These memos caused a media and political firestorm this week when CNN reported that President Barack Obama and Trump had been told about their existence, as part of briefings on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked political targets during the 2016 campaign to help Trump become president. For my story in October, I spoke with the former spy who wrote these memos, under the condition that I not name him or reveal his nationality or the spy service where he had worked for nearly two decades, mostly on Russian matters.

“Someone like me stays in the shadows,” the former spy said.

The former spy told me that he had been retained in early June by a private research firm in the United States to look into Trump’s activity in Europe and Russia. “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” he recalled. One question for him, he said, was, “Are there business ties in Russia?” The American firm was conducting a Trump opposition research project that was first financed by a Republican source until the funding switched to a Democratic one. The former spy said he was never told the identity of the client.

The former intelligence official went to work and contacted his network of sources in Russia and elsewhere. He soon received what he called “hair-raising” information. His sources told him, he said, that Trump had been “sexually compromised” by Russian intelligence in 2013 (when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe contest) or earlier and that there was an “established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” He noted he was “shocked” by these allegations. By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.

The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was “sufficiently serious” for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. “This was an extraordinary situation,” he remarked.

The response to the information from the FBI, he recalled, was “shock and horror.” After a few weeks, the bureau asked him for information on his sources and their reliability and on how he had obtained his reports. He was also asked to continue to send copies of his subsequent reports to the bureau. These reports were not written, he noted, as finished work products; they were updates on what he was learning from his various sources. But he said, “My track record as a professional is second to no one.”

Read the rest at the link.

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The Guardian: Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months.

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.

However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

It is believed that a colleague of Mr Steele in Washington, Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way and, at the end also continued with the Trump case without being paid.

WTF was Comey doing? Was he trying to hold off long enough to find another excuse to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances and get tRump elected? Comey has to go!

That’s all I have for you this morning, but there is plenty more going on. Please post your own links along with your comments in the thread below.


Lazy Saturday Reads

This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.

This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.

Good Morning!!

It’s just under two weeks until President Obama steps down and the Kremlin controls our government. Congressional Republicans are salivating–dreaming of taking away health care from millions of people and finally destroying Medicare and Social Security. They just can’t wait to destroy everything President Obama has accomplished, crash the economy again, and destroy as many jobs as they possibly can–all while claiming they are doing good work.

The New York Times: Erasing Obama, by Timothy Egan.

And Obama? He bequeaths the incoming president “the longest economic expansion and monthly job creation in history,” as my colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin noted. Trump, the pumpkin-haired rooster taking credit for the dawn, has already tried to seize a bit of that achievement as his own. Thanks, Obama. But he’s also likely to screw it up, perhaps by a trade war, or a budget-busting tax cut.

Already, Trump has flirted with treason, flouted conflict-of-interest rules, bullied dissidents and blown off the advice of seasoned public servants. He has yet to hold a news conference since winning the election. And did another day just pass without a word of the promise to “reveal things that other people don’t know” about Russian interference with our election? Maybe he’s waiting for more whispers in his ear from the Kremlin

n advance of his farewell adIdress next week, the president has tried to Trump-proof a climate pact that commits the world’s second leading producer of earth-warming pollutants — the United States — to making this little orb of ours a less perilous place for Sasha’s and Malia’s and Ivanka’s kids. Trump has promised to go rogue on the planet, as quickly as he can.

Until Day 1, Trump is just a 70-year-old man with a twitchy Twitter account. But on Jan. 20, he becomes what Grover Norquist wished for in a pliantly conservative president: “A Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen.”

With that pen, the new president can take health care from 20 million Americans, free Wall Street to once again wildly speculate and smash things up for the rest of us, and require schools to let people carry guns into classrooms — all campaign promises.

Please read the whole thing at the NYT.

Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. At this point, tRump can only be seen as an illegitimate POTUS. Unfortunately, tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.

If that doesn’t scare every sane American, nothing will.

Nance published a book months ago about the Russian attack on our democracy, and it’s very similar to the report the intelligence community just issued. It’s fascinating reading, with lots of historical background on Russia’s spying activities.

This is from an ad at Yahoo News, but it’s a good summary of the book: Malcolm Nance, US intelligence expert, delivered Russian hacking details months before the CIA’s report.

In The Plot to Hack America, published one month before the election, New York Times bestselling author and MSNBC contributor Malcolm Nance not only identifies the hackers as Russian but digs deep into the biggest political scandal since Watergate.

In April of 2016, computer technicians at the Democratic National Committee discovered that someone had accessed the organization’s computer servers. In the days and weeks that followed, they learned that the cyberthieves had helped themselves to everything: sensitive documents, emails, donor information, even voicemails. Nance’s investigations led him to none other than Russia’s spy service. Their method: A new hybrid cyber warfare called Kompromat.

In The Plot to Hack America, we learn how technicians discovered that Russia’s spy agency was responsible for the hack, how the Russians have devastated individuals, political groups, and entire nations with their cybercrimes, and how they may have cultivated Donald Trump as an unwitting “asset” to facilitate their ultimate foreign policy goals: disband NATO, dominate Eastern Europe, and replace America as the world’s superpower.

But why would Vladimir Putin want to tip the scales of an American election? Nance follows the fascinating real-life spy story through a labyrinth of cyber espionage, the history of Russia’s spy services, and Vladimir Putin’s rise through the KGB from junior officer to spy-in-chief. And he details Donald Trump’s many disturbing personal associations with Putin and Russia’s oligarchy, as well as Trump’s loose affiliation of advisors nicknamed “the Kremlin Crew.”

The Plot to Hack America reads like a spy thriller, but it’s all too real.

I highly recommend it.

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Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. Unfortunately tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.

Now check this out from WaPo conservative columnist Kathleen Parker: If Obama is a Muslim, is Trump a Russian spy?

No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?

Seconds.

How surreal to realize that the man who soon will become president was long committed to a rumor soaked in paranoia and propagated by conspiracy theorists whose pursuit of truth stops at the point where facts and willful ignorance collide.

How perfectly terrifying.

And now? What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy — and a fool is just a fool.

Actually, there’s little doubt that tRump is at least an unwitting tool of Putin; and if you look at his top advisers and cabinet choices, it seems quite likely that there was collusion between Russian spies and the tRump campaign.

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David Remnick: Trump, Putin and the Big Hack.

Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, once remarked while on a trip to Berlin in the early days of the Cold War, “The trouble with free elections is that you never know how they will turn out.”

On the morning of November 9th, Molotov’s grandson, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian Duma’s foreign-affairs committee, announced to the parliament, “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the American Presidential elections. And just this second Donald Trump began his speech as President-elect.” The Duma members cheered and applauded.

In the days to come, there were more declarations of acid satisfaction among the Russian élite. Dmitri Kiselyov, the host of “News of the Week,” a popular current-affairs show on state-controlled television, gloated over Trump’s victory and Barack Obama’s inability to prevent it. Obama, he said, was a “eunuch.” Trump was an “alpha male”—and one who showed mercy to his vanquished rival. “Trump could have put the blonde in prison, as he’d threatened in the televised debates,” Kiselyov said on his show. “On the other hand, it’s nothing new. Trump has left blond women satisfied all his life.” Kiselyov further praised Trump because the concepts of democracy and human rights “are not in his lexicon.” In India, Turkey, Europe, and now the United States, he declared, “the liberal idea is in ruins.”

Vladimir Putin did not showboat, but he, too, made his satisfaction plain. His spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters that the similarity between Trump and Putin’s “conceptual approach to foreign policy” was “phenomenal.” Trump’s victory was the basis for Russia’s “moderate optimism”; now both sides could discuss how “to clear out the Augean stables in our bilateral relations.”

All of this is all the more alarming to recall now, in the light of the latest news: according to U.S. intelligence reports, Putin “ordered an influence campaign” to undermine Clinton and work with “a clear preference” to enhance Trump’s prospects.

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

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Finally, Former CIA Director Michael Morell at The New York Times: Trump’s Dangerous Anti-C.I.A. Crusade.

WHEN I wrote in August 2016, in this newspaper, that Donald J. Trump’s character traits posed a national security threat, I didn’t imagine that the first manifestation of that dynamic could play out with the very organization where I spent the first 33 years of my career, the Central Intelligence Agency.

President-elect Trump’s public rejection of the C.I.A., and by extension the rest of the country’s intelligence community, over the assessment that Russia interfered in our presidential election is not only an unprecedented political challenge for our national security establishment — it is a danger to the nation.

While Mr. Trump’s statement on Friday that he had a constructive meeting with senior intelligence officials on the Russian hacking issue was a step in the right direction, his disparagement of American intelligence officers over the last few months is likely to cause significant damage to the C.I.A.

Mr. Trump has questioned the agency’s competence — repeatedly asking, often via Twitter, how we can trust the organization that incorrectly judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (criticism that, in my mind, is unfair for an agency that has changed dramatically in the last 15 years). But he has also accused the agency of being biased and political, implying, in comments to The Times, that the C.I.A. manufactured its Russia analysis to undercut him. Mr. Trump, in essence, said that the agency’s officers were dishonorable. To the men and women of the C.I.A., sworn to protect the nation, this was a gut punch.

Mr. Trump’s behavior will weaken the agency, an organization that has never been more relevant to our nation’s security. The key national security issues of the day — terrorism; proliferation; cyberespionage, crime and war; and the challenges to the global order posed by Russia, Iran and China — all require first-rate intelligence for a commander in chief to understand them, settle on a policy and carry it out.

Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

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More News, Links Only

NBC News: U.S. Ethics Office Struggled to Gain Access to Trump Team, Emails Show.

Joe Conason: Investigate The Hackers — And Ignore Trump’s Chaff.

Newsweek: JORDAN TELLS TRUMP: MOVING U.S. EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM A ‘RED LINE.’

Washington Post: Hill Republicans embrace building of border wall, despite cost.

NewJersey.com: N.J. aunt of Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting suspect: ‘He lost his mind’ in Iraq.

New York Times: Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal.

Now I have to get back to packing for my move. Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!

 

 


Thursday Reads: Congressional Investigations of Russian Cyberattacks Begin

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Good Morning!!

This morning John McCain is holding a hearing on foreign cyberwarfare in the Armed Forces Committee. I’ve been listening to it on C-Span here. Claire McCaskill just asked James Clapper about the effect on the intelligence community of Donald Trump’s “trashing” them and “putting Julian Assange on a pedestal.”

Investigating the Russian Cyberattacks

The New York Times reports: Russia Looms Large as Senate Committee Is Set to Discuss Hacking.

Who are the key players?

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, the committee’s chairman, has made no secret of his belief that Russia was responsible for the election-related hacking, and his recent travels will not have eased his concerns about Russian aggression. He just returned from a New Year’s tour of countries that see themselves as threatened by Russia: Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat, also has taken a strong public stand in support of the intelligence agencies’ finding of Russian government interference….

The group will hear testimony from James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence; Marcel Lettre, the under secretary of defense for intelligence; and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, a leader of the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command….

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Who is the intended audience?

He has a tower in Manhattan.

Most Republicans have avoided attacking Mr. Trump directly over his comments — even as he defended the credibility of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, at the expense of the intelligence agencies. But the hearing will offer a potent showcase for the agencies to defend their work.

They are likely to face little hostile questioning from lawmakers.

“The point of this hearing is to have the intelligence community reinforce from their point of view that the Russians did this,” Mr. Graham said on Wednesday.

Let’s hope this will not be the last such hearing in Congress.

The Hill: Five things to watch for in Russia hearings.

Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential election will take center stage in Washington on Thursday with two separate hearings in the Senate — including one behind closed doors.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from intelligence officials in public hearings in the morning, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will receive a classified briefing in the afternoon.

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly rejected assertions from the intelligence community that Moscow attempted to influence the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee and the email account of John Podesta, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.n a series of tweets this week, he accused intelligence officials of delaying a briefing until Friday in order to build a case against Russia — an allegation rejected by other officials. He also appeared to side with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who released emails believed to have been hacked by Russia. Trump noted that Assange has asserted that the emails did not come from Russia, while repeating that anyone could have hacked the DNC.

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Trump’s comments have put Republicans in a tough spot, underlining the more friendly approach he has taken with Russia and the more critical approach with U.S. intelligence agencies.

It has provided an opening for Democrats who hope the story about Russia will shadow the beginning of Trump’s presidency, complicating his legislative agenda.

Read the five points at the link.

More news on the hacking scandal

Reuters: U.S. obtained evidence after election that Russia leaked emails: officials.

U.S. intelligence agencies obtained what they considered to be conclusive evidence after the November election that Russia provided hacked material from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks through a third party, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

U.S. officials had concluded months earlier that Russian intelligence agencies had directed the hacking, but had been less certain that they could prove Russia also had controlled the release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The timing of the additional intelligence is important because U.S. President Barack Obama has faced criticism from his own party over why it took his administration months to respond to the cyber attack. U.S. Senate and House leaders, including prominent Republicans, have also called for an inquiry.

At the same time, President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to help his candidacy and hurt Clinton’s. Russia has denied the hacking allegations.

A U.S. intelligence report on theCN hacking was scheduled to be presented to Obama on Thursday and to Trump on Friday, though its contents were still under discussion on Wednesday, officials said.

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CNN: Tim Kaine: Why is Trump Putin’s ‘defense lawyer’?

Sen. Tim Kaine on Thursday criticized President-elect Donald Trump, alleging he is acting like Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “defense lawyer” and calling Trump’s conduct “suspicious.”

“Why does President-elect Trump again and again and again take it upon himself to be Vladimir Putin’s defense lawyer rather than listening to and respecting the intelligence professionals of the United States,” Kaine told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” in his first national interview since the 2016 presidential election.
The former Democratic vice presidential nominee, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee which is hold a hearing on hacking Thursday, said that even if Trump believes Russia can be America’s ally in the fight against ISIS, he doesn’t have to “trash” American intelligence professionals in the process.
“There is something very unusual — indeed, even sort of suspicious — about the degree to which he casually kicks aside the intelligence community when he won’t even go to the briefings again and again and takes the Assange/Vladimir Putin line on this important question” about whether Russian was behind the election-related hacks, Kaine said.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said Republicans’ confidence in Assange over the intelligence community is “embarrassing.”
“You hear former colleagues like mine, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, tie themselves in knots, or my colleague (California Republican) Darrell Issa, saying they put more faith in an accused sex offender tan their own intelligence agencies,” the Democrat told Chris Cuomo on “New Day.”
“It’s embarrassing to be honest with you,” he added. “This is not healthy skepticism as they would like to portray it. This is very unhealthy, essentially avoidance of the facts.”

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The Washington Post Fact Checker: Julian Assange’s claim that there was no Russian involvement in WikiLeaks emails.

U.S. intelligence officials have formally accused the Russian government of interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections. One of the allegations of Russian involvement is that Russian hackers breached the Democratic National Committee’s network and provided tens of thousands of internal DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC, said in June 2016 that Russian hackers had breached the DNC network….

At least two independent cybersecurity firms have confirmed CrowdStrike’s findings that two Russian hacker groups had penetrated the DNC network. One group is believed to have actually stolen and distributed the emails.

While the independent analysts suspected that Guccifer 2.0 was linked to the Russian groups that hacked the DNC or were a part of a Russian government influence operation, they did not have hard evidence because the documents were posted anonymously. The FBI is still investigating ties between Russian hackers and the WikiLeaks emails.

Read much more at the link.

John Schindler at The New York Observer: Donald Trump’s Soft Spot for Russia Could Be His Political Undoing.

Three weeks ago, I counseled President-elect Donald Trump that going to war against the spies is never a good idea in Washington. Our Intelligence Community knows lots of things, not all of which would be flattering to someone whose retinue includes so many people with odd connections to the Kremlin. When spies get angry, they call reporters and arrange discreet chats in parking garages. The last president who entered the Oval Office with this much dislike and distrust of the IC was Richard Nixon—and we know how that worked out for him.

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Trump has now outdone Nixon, upping his war on the spooks even before his inauguration, by making plain that he believes Moscow—not our country’s spies—regarding the issue of Russian interference in our election. As I’ve explained in detail, although there is no evidence that the Kremlin literally “hacked” our election in 2016, there’s a mountain of evidence that Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services stole Democratic emails then went public with them via Wikileaks to hurt Hillary Clinton.

However, the president-elect refuses to accept the consensus view of the IC, not to mention many outside experts who have confirmed their analysis. In response to President Obama’s recent public statement pointing a finger at the Kremlin for their misdeeds against our democracy, backed up by rather mild sanctions on Moscow, President-elect Trump has pursued his customary tactic of denying, doubling-down, then denying some more, regardless of any evidence proffered.

Trump and his mouthpieces continue to deny that Russians had any role in our 2016 election, which is a patent falsehood. Indeed, a few days ago, the president-elect promised to deliver revelations by the middle of this week about what happened with those Democratic emails, adding that he knew “things that other people don’t know” about the hacking. Here he apparently channeled O. J. Simpson, whose quest to find the “real killers” of his ex-wife and her friend remains unfulfilled, more than two decades later.

Trump’s promise was empty, and there is no new evidence to contradict the IC’s conclusion that Moscow stood behind the operation to politically harm Hillary Clinton and her party last year. Like his promise to reveal President Obama’s “real” birth certificate—which would show he was born in Kenya, or Mars, rather than Hawaii—this was no more than another cynical Trumpian publicity stunt.

The facts are in regarding the theft of Democratic emails, and the only people seriously disputing them are those in thrall to Vladimir Putin one way or another. (For an excellent quick primer on the evidence, this cannot be beat.) The promised “new evidence” seems to be no more than the latest lies proffered by Julian Assange in his most recent obsequious interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. Here, Assange once again stated that Wikileaks, which he created a decade ago, didn’t get the Democrats’ emails from the Russians.

Read the rest at the link.

Other News

The Boston Globe: Enough of the tweets, China’s state media tells Trump.

Vanity Fair: After Trump, Will Twitter Wither?

Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top U.S. Spy Agency.

Alternet: At Least 50 Trump Electors Were Illegitimately Seated as Electoral College Members.

Vox: Study: racism and sexism predict support for Trump much more than economic dissatisfaction.

Politico: Trump to face sworn deposition in Trump Tower.


Lazy Saturday Reads: New Year’s Eve Edition

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Good Morning!!

Today is the final day of 2016, and naturally King tRump posted a nasty message to the country via his preferred form of communication:

What a pathetic asshole he is.

Meanwhile the tRump camp and many Republicans are seemingly embracing Vladimir Putin and his buddies. I have to believe their ultimate goal is to turn the U.S. into a kleptocracy on the the Putin model.

It looks like good ol’ Kellyanne is on board with the Putin love.

Politico: Team Trump: We’re the true target of Obama’s sanctions.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that the sanctions announced against Russia were a response to the Kremlin’s “aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election.” But Republican allies of the incoming administration say those sanctions have another target: Donald Trump.

“I will tell you that even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to quote ‘box in’ President-elect Trump,” incoming counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Thursday night on CNN. “That would be very unfortunate if politics were the motivating factor here. We can’t help but think that’s often true.”

Conway was just one of multiple Trump allies to attack the president’s package of sanctions, announced Thursday afternoon. The president-elect and his team have thus far been unwilling to concede what all 17 U.S. federal intelligence agencies announced last fall, that Russia was behind the wave of cyberattacks that shook up the presidential election by releasing hacked email messages from the Democratic National Committee and other prominent Democratic figures. Instead, Trump has said the attacks could have been performed by Russia or China or “somebody sitting in a bed someplace.”

And the president-elect has taken particular objection to the assessment of the FBI and CIA, which were reported in the media but not released publicly, that the Russian government’s cyber efforts were intended not just to undermine the U.S. electoral process but specifically to help install Trump as the next president.

Instead, Trump’s team has said regularly that discussion of Russian cyberattacks by Democrats and the mainstream media are little more than efforts to delegitimize the incoming administration before it even arrives. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and prominent Trump supporter, said Friday that Obama’s decision to impose sanctions late in his second term was “extraordinary” and added that he has “never seen a president try to create more problems for a future president.”

Oh really? And what about the revelation that the same people involved in the DNC hacking also hacked into the U.S. electric grid? Is that a political lie by the intelligence community too?

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The Washington Post: Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.

A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.

While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a security matter, the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the U.S. government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks.

Officials in government and the utility industry regularly monitor the grid because it is highly computerized and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the country’s medical and emergency services.

Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.

Friday night, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) called on federal officials “to conduct a full and complete investigation of this incident and undertake remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”

“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”

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This is getting really scary. If our electrical grid becomes compromised we could be in serious trouble. The Russians did this in Ukraine (and here in the U.S.) previously. The Wall Street Journal:

A team of Russian hackers that has been linked to this year’s cyberbreach of the Democratic National Committee was also behind a successful attack in 2015 on three different utilities in Ukraine that caused unprecedented blackouts, according to government and independent security experts.

The same group is thought by those experts to be behind successful cyberattacks on several U.S. energy companies in 2014 that gave the hackers access to company industrial control networks.

In mid-December, Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev suffered another partial power outage when a high-voltage electric substation turned off under suspicious circumstances.

“We’re 99% sure that it was a hacker,” said Vsevolod Kovalchuk, chief executive of Ukrenergo, the utility that operates the backbone of Ukraine’s power transmission network.

Shortly before midnight on December 17, someone started disconnecting circuit breakers through remote means until the electrical substation was completely disabled, Mr. Kovalchuk said.

Utility employees re-energized the substation by manually restoring equipment to their “on” positions. Substations are linchpins in all power grids because they control voltage levels and direct the flow of electricity down power lines.

Read more at the link.

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Tommy Christopher posted an excellent analysis of the tRump team’s attitude toward Russian interference in our democratic institutions: Trump openly urges cover-up of Russian hacks that CIA says got him elected.

Asked if he would back sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Russian cyber crimes that the CIA and FBI agree were undertaken to help get Trump elected (and which were directed by Putin himself), Trump said we should all “get on with our lives:”

This was an utterly bizarre event, once again showcasing Trump’s terrifying inability to personally let anything go by taking shots at a guy who dropped out of the Republican primary before a single vote was cast — even as Trump is urging the rest of us to “get on with our lives” regarding Russian interference in our presidential election.

But Trump’s brazen attempt to whitewash Russia’s role in hacking the election, with direct encouragement from Trump himself, must not be gotten over but rather ought to be top of mind with every responsible journalist and attentive citizen.

While Democrats and a few principled Republicans seek true accountability for this unprecedented and dangerous intrusion, Republican leaders are ready to sweep it all under the rug — and Trump himself has even tacitly endorsed the interference.

The GOP leaders who stick with tRump on this may find this to be a problematic choice in the future. It looks like we’ll continue to get information given and leaked to the media, especially if tRump continues to disrespect the intelligence community. History shows that the CIA tends to win these battles with presidents.

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It’s fairly obvious to everyone except tRump and his crew that Vlad P. is playing him and sees him as a useful idiot. At The Washington Post, Karen de Young and David Filipov speculate about where this bromance is headed: Trump and Putin: A relationship where mutual admiration is headed toward reality.

For much of this year, Donald Trump and Vladi­mir Putin have been engaged in a long-distance courtship. They have said kind things about each other in public and separately expressed visions of a mutually agreeable future.

Since Trump’s election, the anticipation has become more explicit. It culminated this week in the U.S. president-elect’s call for America to “move on” from allegations of Russian electoral hacking, and the Russian president’s blithe pronouncement Friday that he would rather plan for a new relationship with Trump than retaliate in kind to sanctions and expulsions ordered by outgoing President Obama.

“Great move on delay (by V. Putin),” Trump tweeted. “I always knew he was very smart!”

But as with all such arms-length pairings, the looming question is whether Trump and Putin will find fulfillment or disappointment once face-to-face reality strikes.

U.S. and Russian officials and experts are deeply divided over the answer. Some see Moscow playing Trump like a fiddle. The Kremlin “sees Trump’s presidency as a net loss for the U.S. strategic position that Russia should take advantage of,” said Vladi­mir Frolov, a Moscow-based analyst.

Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

Along with many of us, Chuck Todd has noticed that tRump doesn’t have a sense of humor. He talked about it in an interview with Glenn Thrush of Politico:

Chuck Todd has interviewed Donald Trump many times, and he’s noticed something somewhat disquieting about the unquiet president-elect.

The man doesn’t laugh — not in a normal, spontaneous, regular-human kind of way.

“[It] drives me crazy. Do you know what? I’ve never seen him laugh,” the “Meet the Press” host told me during an interview for POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast earlier this month. “I challenge somebody to find him laughing, and that person has yet to find an example, in my opinion. He’ll smile, but he smiles appropriately. Watch him at the Al Smith dinner [the roast in New York City in October] … He doesn’t really laugh. He looks for others to laugh. It is just weird.”

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And this is really weird:

And there’s one other thing that Todd thinks is odd: After several of his Sunday appearances as a candidate, Trump would lean back in his chair and request that the control room replay his appearance on a monitor — sans sound.

“Then there’s the amount of time he spends after the interview is over, with the sound off. He wants to see what it all looked like. He will watch the whole thing on mute,” Todd told me, sitting in his cluttered office in NBC’s nondescript, low-slung Washington headquarters on Nebraska Avenue.

WTF?

So . . . that’s what I have for you this morning? What stories are you following?

 


Tuesday Reads: I Hate 2016.

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Good Afternoon!!

Before I begin, news just broke that Carrie Fisher has died. I hate 2016.

I’ve defended President Obama for years now, but I’m disgusted with him right now. Obviously, the man has a huge ego and he’s not really much of a feminist except at at a surface level. Now he has joined Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in claiming he would have beaten Donald Trump–and not a single one of those men did the work or went through the attacks that Hillary Clinton had to deal with. U.S. News:

President Barack Obama says he is “confident” he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was on the ballot this year, prompting the president-elect to respond with an defensive denial amid a flurry of tweets sent out late Monday night.

“President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me,” Trump wrote. “He should say that but I say NO WAY! – jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”

Trump was responding to Obama’s interview with former aide David Axelrod, in an episode of Axelrod’s podcast The Axe Files released Monday.

In a sit-down at the White House before departing last week for his annual Christmas getaway to Hawaii, Obama told Axelrod that he did not believe Trump’s election was a repudiation of the vision of a more inclusive America Obama had tried to convey in his campaigns and as president

“In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have suggested that somehow, it really was a fantasy,” Obama said. “What I would argue is, is that the culture actually did shift, that the majority does buy into the notion of a one America that is tolerant and diverse and open and full of energy and dynamism.”

Yes, and Hillary did win a majority of votes–about as many as Obama got in 2012; but, never mind. A man would have done better, right? WTF?! And BTW, David Axelrod tore down Hillary throughout the campaign. Surely Obama must be aware of that fact?

Everyone, including he media, is now blaming Hillary for the coming apocalypse. No one wants to deal with the media’s year-long obsession with emails or their failure to adequately investigation and report on the Russian interference in the election. Many reporters are rushing to excuse James Comey’s successful efforts to hurt Clinton shortly before election day.

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Here’s an unscientific investigation by Sam Stein (who has actually been pretty friendly to Clinton): Did James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton The Election? We Asked The Late-Deciding Voters.

For months, as the election wound down to its bitter conclusion, Leonard Rainey of Louisiana struggled over which presidential candidate he’d support.

In the past, the choice would have been simple. Rainey, 33, leans Republican. He voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. But like others this cycle, he found the idea of backing GOP nominee Donald Trump repugnant, matched only by the nausea that accompanied the thought of pulling the lever for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

He entertained sitting out the election. But, as he said, “you don’t have a right to bitch if you don’t vote.” So he pored over the news in search of guidance. It became overwhelming. Each WikiLeaks revelation was a new micro-drama; every Trump debate performance an eye-opener.

“His mouth doesn’t fucking stop,” he said after the second one.

By the final week, the continuous revelations and conspiracy theories surrounding Clinton were taking a toll. Rainey had heard something about Clinton’s ties to a pedophilia ring ― a hoax that led an armed man to fire shots in a D.C.-based pizzeria. He found Clinton Foundation ties to the Saudis and Qatari government disturbing.

The night before Election Day, Rainey kept worrying about how a President Trump might navigate a complex international standoff. He woke up wondering if Clinton was the right choice. But in the end, he voted for Trump anyway ― an uninspired, rote contribution to American democracy.

“You could have put up anybody else against him,” Rainey said. “But they just picked a bad candidate.”

Well that proves it then. A life-long Republican from Louisiana thinks Clinton was a “bad candidate,” and a few other folks that Stein talked to said similar things. Stein quotes five men and one woman in his piece. Most were Republicans, and one was a Bernie bro. Case closed.

Meanwhile, instead of rehashing the election and making unprovable claims, maybe Obama should be reflecting on his failure to act when he might have been able to reduce the damage done by Putin and Comey or at least take action to punish Russia for stealing our election. He might also want to think about why he failed to take any action to prevent what looks to be genocide in Syria.

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The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen: Thanks to no-drama Obama, American leadership is gone.

If Dec. 7, 1941, is the day that Franklin D. Roosevelt said “will live in infamy,” then Dec. 20, 2016, has got to be a close second. No Americans died that day as they did at Pearl Harbor, but the American Century, as Time magazine founder Henry Luce called it, came to a crashing end. Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Moscow to settle matters in the Middle East. The United States wasn’t even asked to the meeting.

Winston Churchill said in 1942 that he had not become Great Britain’s“First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Nonetheless, by the end of the 1940s, much of the empire was gone. Churchill was an unapologetic colonialist, but he was up against liberation movements of all kinds, not to mention the antipathy of the United States to imperialist ambitions — in short, history itself. Churchill had a marvelous way with words, and greatness accompanied him like a shadow, but in certain ways he was a 19th-century man wandering, confounded, in the 20th.

Barack Obama is quite the reverse. He is a 21st-century man who never quite appreciated the lessons of the 20th. He has been all too happy to preside over the loss of American influence. Aleppo, Syria, now a pile of rubble, is where countless died — as did American influence. The Russians polished it off from the air, doing for the Syrian regime what the United States could not figure out how to do for the rebels. The city hemorrhaged civilian dead, and America, once the preeminent power in the region, did virtually nothing.

It could be that Obama was right. It could be that all along he knew that the rebels were beyond saving — although he predicted that Bashar al-Assad would be toppled — and, anyway, the United States was not going to again get into some Middle Eastern quagmire. America had twice made war in Iraq; it had lost Marines in Lebanon. Though perhaps these were just excuses to do nothing. After all, no one ever recommended putting boots on the ground in Syria. That was Obama’s straw man.

And now we are headed toward autocracy. That will be Obama’s legacy.

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Here’s an interesting article by Yochi Dreazen at Vox: I’ve spent 15 years covering national security. I’ve never seen anything like the Russia hack.

National security has been the focus of virtually all of my professional life….But I’ve never covered anything quite like Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee’s servers and the email account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, moves designed to steal and then release information damaging to the Democratic presidential nominee.

Think about it this way: In a best-case scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to persuade tens of millions of Americans to question the integrity of the US political system and the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s narrow win. In a worst-case scenario, the Kremlin just handed the White House to the most jarringly pro-Russian presidential candidate in American history.

Imagine I had told you, in 2013, that this would happen — that Russia would successfully hack into a political party’s servers and use the revelations to try to change the course of an American presidential election. Imagine you didn’t know which party benefited, so there was no reason to downplay the event’s horror, or shrink from its implications. How much of a freakout would you have predicted across America? What sort of response would you have expected? How angry, specifically, would you have expected Republicans — a traditionally Russo-skeptic party — to be?

And yet there may be no response. Nor is it even obvious what the response should, or would, be. Part of me thinks we should consider this to be a case of espionage (stealing the documents in the first place) paired with an unusually sophisticated propaganda effort (leaking the sexiest material slowly to dominate the news cycle in the final weeks before the election). Part of me thinks we should consider this to be an act of war, no different than if Putin had launched a cyberattack that took down the electrical grid or the banking system. And part of me thinks it’s something new entirely — a hybrid that is more than mere spying but less than an outright assault.

I’m at even more of a loss when it comes to thinking about what the US should do in response. Russia doesn’t have real elections, so there’s no Putin rival for Washington to quietly try to help win the presidency. The US could try to embarrass the Russian leader by releasing details of the tens of billions of dollars that he and his closest allies are believed to have squirreled away in a labyrinth of offshore bank accounts. Putin controls Russia’s media, though, so it’s not clear if that information would reach many Russians. Given Putin’s sky-high approval ratings, it’s not also clear if many Russians would care. And not even Russia hawks think Obama would — or should — retaliate with military force.

I’m left with a pair of depressing conclusions: Putin got the president he wanted, and he’ll likely escape without any serious retribution for his direct attack on American democracy — in fact, he’s likely to get the most pro-Russian president, and pro-Russian administration, in recent American history. His operation will have been an extraordinary success, and so the US won’t be the only Western power that Putin targets: German politicians are already warning that Russian hacking threatens their upcoming elections.

Please read the rest at Vox.

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And check this out at Newsweek too: Neil Buchanan: American Democracy is on Life Support. Here’s the intro:

Is it too late to save constitutional democracy in the United States?

It is possible that there is nothing that can be done to prevent Donald Trump’s presidency from turning the U.S. into an autocratic state, completing the Republicans’ generation-long effort to make sure that only certain people are allowed to participate in our weakening republic.

Even if that is true—and no one can say with certainty, at this point in history, whether we will indeed go down that path—it is important to decide how to proceed even in the face of inevitable disaster.

Should people who believe in the rule of law act as if there is something still to be done to save the nation from political death, or should they face reality and merely try to minimize the pain as the patient dies slowly in hospice care?

Here, I will explain why it is so difficult to see a hopeful path forward after the 2016 elections. The deep problem is not merely that the Democrats will not control any branch of the federal government or most state governments, although that is obviously a huge disability.

The ultimate problem is that Trump and the Republicans have thrown off any hint of good faith, which means that Democrats who try to bargain with them might be fated to be played for suckers.

In such circumstances, Democrats could choose to simply ease people’s pain as the republic fades away. Like palliative care for the dying, strategies that would be unthinkable for other patients—such as administering high doses of painkillers—might now make sense.

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One more from CNN: It’s your duty to laugh at Donald Trump, by Rob Crilly.

Time and time again he has shown himself vulnerable to mockery. Humor is Kryptonite to his thin-skinned existence.
He is utterly impervious to the usual weapons of politics. Try to wound him with shame or embarrass him with public scrutiny and you may as well try to sink a duck by pouring a jug of H2O over its rear end.
But we all know the size of his hands. Graydon Carter’s long-running feud with the “short-fingered vulgarian”, as he so pithily put it, recently resurfaced in the pages of Vanity Fair, where a waiter at the Trump Grill was quoted discussing the size of his bosses’ digits.
Inevitably, the orange-haired bloviator responded with a humorless tirade on Twitter.
Trump’s sensitivity is easily understood when you realize he is on a desperate quest to be taken seriously. Just remember the face he pulled when he sat beside Barack Obama in the Oval Office on that Thursday after an election.
it was the sort of face a three-year-old exhibits when they really, really want you know they are concentrating. Or when they are trying to squeeze out a number two.
Please go read the whole thing.

What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Winter Is Coming, In More Ways Than One.

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Good Morning Sky Dancers,

Winter is coming, in more ways than one. Cold and dark is settling in here in New England. As we all know, we face the possibility of terrible times to come in our country as a result of the election of Donald tRump and the global rise of right wing authoritarian leaders.

Personally, I’m going through a tough time right now. I will be evicted from my home sometime soon. I’m not sure when it will happen–it could be a month or it could be a few months. I have applied for senior housing in my town, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay here long enough to get an apartment. If I can’t do that, I’ll have to go back to Indiana and try to find housing there.

As you can imagine, I’m pretty overwhelmed emotionally and physically, and I’m actually feeling situationally depressed for the first time in years. Frankly, I think the depression is more related to the Trump horror than to my personal troubles. My housing situation has been up in the air for years, and I’m actually looking forward to getting out of this place. It’s just the process of doing it that is getting me down.

As you can imagine, I’m having some trouble concentrating and that affects my ability to read and write about the news. Anyway, here’s what I have for you today. It’s a mixed bag.

The New York Times: ‘A Complete Meltdown of Humanity’: Civilians Die in Fight for Eastern Aleppo.

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Pro-government forces retaking the eastern neighborhoods of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo killed at least 82 civilians on Monday, the United Nations estimated, in what one official called “a complete meltdown of humanity.”

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, warned that the blood bath in Aleppo, a once-thriving northern metropolis that is close to falling under the government’s complete control after more than four years of fighting, could spread to other cities where rebels are active.

“What is happening with Aleppo could repeat itself in Douma, in Raqqa, in Idlib,” he said on Tuesday. “We cannot let this continue.”

Also on Tuesday, the French government said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of a chemical attack in the eastern suburbs of the city of Hama a day earlier. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, an international coalition of humanitarian groups, said the attack had killed at least 93 civilians and wounded 300, but those numbers could not be confirmed independently.

The death toll for eastern Aleppo, recorded in four neighborhoods — Bustan al-Qasr, al-Fardous, al-Kallaseh and al-Saleheen — included 11 women and 13 children, some shot in the streets as they tried to flee the fighting, said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. He cited reports the world body had received from reliable contacts inside and outside the city.

Mr. Colville said pro-government forces had also reportedly entered homes and killed those they found inside, including women and children.

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I’ll be honest. Maybe deep down I’m a hawk like so many have claimed about Hillary, but I don’t understand why the Obama administration has done so little to oppose the Russians in Syria and Ukraine. I also favored the intervention in Libya and, like Hillary, I still think it was the right thing to do. I admit I’m no expert, but to see the human misery that is coming out of Syria is far beyond heartbreaking. Yet, it appears the U.S. will not act.

Vox: This Trump voter didn’t think Trump was serious about repealing her health insurance.

Debbie Mills is a 53-year-old furniture store owner in Bell County, an area of the state right on the Tennessee border. Earlier this year, doctors discovered that her husband has non-alcoholic cirrhosis. He now needs a transplant if he’s going to survive. Mills and her husband keep a bag packed, waiting for the doctors to call with news that a liver is available.

 This all means that Mills really, really needs her health insurance. And she’s very grateful for the Affordable Care Act, because she couldn’t afford insurance before it was passed.

And yet she voted for Donald Trump. Until we spoke, she said she hadn’t taken Trump’s repeal threats seriously. As we talked, she started to process what his election might mean for her family’s future.

Two excerpts from the interview:

On voting for Trump

Sarah Kliff

So how did you decide to vote for him, since he’s one of the people promising to repeal Obamacare?

Debbie Mills

Well … we liked him because he just seemed to be a businessman.

We’re in a small, rural area where there’s not a lot of businesses right now going on, and so we can’t really have anything else shut down, because it affects everybody.

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Michele Palazzo, photo of winter storm Jonas in NYC, 2016

We were in an area where there’s lots of coal. And so we don’t work in the coal mines, but … one job affects this job and affects this job. If they’re not working, they’re not grocery shopping, they’re not going and buying furniture, they’re not buying clothes, they’re not doing anything.

We’re more or less sort of a general store. We sell a little bit of everything. But the coal miners are not able to purchase anything.

Christmas is a lot different than what it used to be because they were getting their Christmas bonuses. And they would come and they would buy the TVs and the recliners and they would redo the whole kitchen and do new dining room tables for the family Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. And now it’s not like that.

On losing their health insurance

Sarah Kliff

Do you think if it does go away, you’ll regret your vote in any way? Thinking, “I voted for this person who took away my health insurance.” Or … it’s like, that’s one of so many things, like you said, jobs, the economy?

Debbie Mills

I don’t know. I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this. That they would not do this, would not take the insurance away. Knowing that it’s affecting so many people’s lives. I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot … purchase, cannot pay for the insurance?

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You know, what are we to do?

So I don’t know. Maybe he’s thinking about, you know, the little people that are not making the big money, like what they make in New York and Washington and all the places that, you know, this is not, you know, something — this is people’s lives that’s being affected.

Honestly, I should feel sorry for people like this, but my financial situation is probably a lot worse than theirs. I guess I’m sorry they are so ignorant and maybe even stupid, but I have a lot more anger than pity toward tRump voters. I guess that makes me nasty. Well I’m OK with being a nasty woman right now.

Last night Chris Hayes and Bernie Sanders had a “town hall” meeting with tRump voters in Wisconsin. There is no way in hell I was going to watch that. I’m sick and tired of the obsession with the so-called “white working class” in the “rust belt.” Meanwhile, the millions and millions of women, African American, Latino, Asian and other Clinton voters are disrespected and ignored.

We tried to save this country. Bernie Sanders did nothing to help and plenty to hurt Clinton’s chances. It’s time for Sanders to either start acting rather than talking. Let him get a Democratic governor elected in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Then maybe I’ll listen to him.

Meanwhile, a good story for Chris Hayes to cover would be the conflicts of interest at his own network, NBC.

I liked this piece at the Paris Review on women and aging: Becoming Invisible: An Interview with Mary Ruefle.

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Well, thematically, aging and death become one in the same for writers, and very often you lose young readership because you’re no longer interested in the things young people are interested in. The time for exuberance, energy, endless curiosity, endless activity within a body of work, that drops away and everything becomes bittersweet. But this becoming invisible—all women talk about it. There’s a period of transition that’s so disorienting that you’re confused and horrified by it, you can’t get a grip on it, but it does pass. You endure it, and you are patient, and it falls away. And then you come into a new kind of autonomy that you simply didn’t have when you were young. You didn’t have it when your parents were alive, you didn’t have it back when you were once a woman to be seen. It’s total autonomy and freedom, and you become a much stronger person. You’re not answerable to anyone anymore. For me, it was a journey of shedding the sense of needing to please someone—parents, children, partners.

Men don’t become invisible in the same way. There’s a difference in power between men and women, and I know I’m using an archaic formula but I do belong to another century. For the longest time, male power was posited in the accumulation of wealth or experience, and experience was something every man could have. And a woman’s power was always posited on physical attractiveness, the ability to have children. So as a man ages, he gains power, and as a woman ages, she loses it, or feels as though she does. If you go back to this paradox, which I understand people may find antiquated, you find there are still shards and shreds of it everywhere.

Read the rest at the link.

More reads, links only:

Summer Brennan at The Literary Hub: Notes from the Resistance, a Column on Language and Power.

The Cipher Brief: Fmr. CIA Acting Dir. Michael Morell: “This Is the Political Equivalent of 9/11.”

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The Washington Post: Trump risks war by turning the One China question into a bargaining chip

The New Republic: The Democrats Must Stop Ceding the Security State to Republicans.

Michael Isakoff: Suspected Russian cyberattack waged on Clinton campaign just days before vote.

The Washington Post: Nixon saw Trump coming. But he wouldn’t have supported him.

Mother Jones: A Guide to Donald Trump’s Huge Debts—and the Conflicts They Present.

Vanity Fair: Why Angry White America Fell for Putin.

The Daily Beast: President Obama on Campaign Hacks: ‘Very Clear Relationships’ Between Team Trump and Russia.

Huffington Post: Harry Reid: The Trump Campaign ‘Was In On’ Russia’s Election Hacking.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of your Tuesday.


Lazy Saturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

So now we know for certain what many of us have believed for months: Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to put Donald #tRump in the White House. Not only that, we know that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders knew this and argued against release that information to the American public. We now know that Mitch McConnell told President Obama that if the administration. And perhaps just as troubling, we know that President Obama chose not to release the information even after James Comey put his own finger on the scale in order to elect #tRump.

The Washington Post: Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

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This was made very clear to the President Obama and to Congressional leaders well before the election. And James Comey knew all about it too.

The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.

The response of the #tRump transition team was a series of blatant lies.

The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” the statement read.

Here is what #tRump told Time Magazine in their “person of the year” interview:

I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’

Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart.

It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.

I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.

As we all know, #tRump is not even taking his daily intelligence briefings, and his transition team has not even been in contact with the intelligence officials who need to help them get up to speed on how these government functions work. It seems pretty clear that #tRump plans to get his security briefings from Vladimir Putin.

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Where are the Democrats? This is a constitutional crisis. It is hundreds of times more serious than Watergate, and yet our so-called “leaders” are ho-humming and getting ready for their long winter vacations. We need immediate public investigations not only of the Russian interference but also of FBI Director James Comey. And Mitch McConnell needs to be forced to answer some tough questions STAT.

The New York Times reported this morning that Russia also hacked the RNC but held onto the data, probably for future use. They’ll be able to blackmail Republicans to prevent serious investigations.

American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.

They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.

In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks.

Republicans have a different explanation for why no documents from their networks were ever released. Over the past several months, officials from the Republican committee have consistently said that their networks were not compromised, asserting that only the accounts of individual Republicans were attacked. On Friday, a senior committee official said he had no comment.

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But that’s not what the intelligence community says.

It is possible that in hacking into the Republican committee, Russian agents were simply hedging their bets. The attack took place in the spring, the senior officials said, about the same time that a group of hackers believed to be linked to the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency, stole the emails of senior officials of the Democratic National Committee. Intelligence agencies believe that the Republican committee hack was carried out by the same Russians who penetrated the Democratic committee and other Democratic groups.

The finding about the Republican committee is expected to be included in a detailed report of “lessons learned” that Mr. Obama has ordered intelligence agencies to assemble before he leaves office on Jan. 20. That report is intended, in part, to create a comprehensive history of the Russian effort to influence the election, and to solidify the intelligence findings before Mr. Trump is sworn in.

Too little, too late. Perhaps if some Republicans discover some patriotic feelings in their hearts, we will get investigations. Meanwhile the Electoral Colleges votes on December 19.

AP Big Story: Obama orders review of election-season hacking.

President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of election-season cyberattacks, including the email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign and raised fresh concerns about Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections, the White House said Friday.

The review, led by intelligence agencies, will be a “deep dive” into a possible pattern of increased “malicious cyber activity” timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. The review will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government’s response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.

The president ordered up the report earlier this week and asked that it be completed before he leaves office next month, Schultz said.

“The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.”

Just not seriously enough to do it before the election.

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Aaron Blake at The Fix on the situation Republicans are in now:

The report highlights and exacerbates the increasingly fraught situation in which congressional Republicans find themselves with regard to Russia and Trump. By acknowledging and digging into the increasing evidence that Russia helped — or at least attempted to help — tip the scales in Trump’s favor, they risk raising questions about whether Trump would have won without Russian intervention.

Trump, after all, won by a margin of about 80,000 votes cast across three states, winning each of the decisive states by less than one percentage point. So even a slight influence could have plausibly made the difference, though we’ll never be able to prove it one way or another.

While saying that Russia clearly tried to help Trump doesn’t inherently call into question the legitimacy of Trump’s win —earlier Friday, the White House made sure to emphasize that it’s not making that case — it’s not hard to connect the dots. And Trump and his party know it. The Post’s report cited Republicans who expressed skepticism about the available evidence when presented with it in September, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

In addition, any GOP effort to dig into the matter risks antagonizing the president-elect, who has said flatly that he doesn’t believe Russia interfered with the election, despite receiving intelligence briefings to the contrary. And he’s proved more than willing to go after fellow Republicans who run afoul of him.

On the other hand, if Republicans play down the issue, they risk giving a pass to an antagonistic foreign power that significant majorities of Americans and members of Congress do not trust and which, if the evidence is accurate, wields significant power to wage successful cyberwarfare with the United States.

176294_600 one hero in all this is Harry Reid, who wrote an explosive letter to James Comey in October. From the WaPo:

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid on Sunday accused FBI Director James B. Comey of breaking federal law in disclosing possible new evidence in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Reid (D-Nev.) said in a letter sent to Comey that his disclosure to Congress, made 11 days before the election, might have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan politicking by government employees.

“Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another,” Reid wrote. “I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law.”

Reid did a telephone interview with Joy Reid this morning, and if you didn’t hear it, please check it out. Reid’s entire show this morning was “must watch TV.”

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy your weekend. We don’t have much longer before our government is turned over to an authoritarian puppet of Russia.