The Trump books just keep on coming. This week and next week we’re getting two very significant releases. A new book by Tim Weiner came out today. Weiner is a historian of both the FBI and CIA. His latest is The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare 1945–2020. The Washington Post published an op-ed by Weiner yesterday: The unanswered question of our time: Is Trump an agent of Russia?
The FBI faced a national security nightmare three years ago: It suspected that the new president of the United States was, in some unknown way, in the sway of Russia.
Was an agent of a foreign power in the White House? Should they investigate Donald Trump? “I can’t tell you how ominous and stressful those days were,” Peter Strzok, then the No. 2 man in FBI counterintelligence, told me. “Similar to the Cuban missile crisis, in a domestic counterintelligence sense.”
But the Cuban missile crisis lasted only 13 days — and it had a happy ending. This crisis has no end in sight. Despite the investigation by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, despite the work of congressional intelligence committees and inspectors general — and despite impeachment — we still don’t know why the president kowtows to Vladimir Putin, broadcasts Russian disinformation, bends foreign policy to suit the Kremlin and brushes off reports of Russians bounty-hunting American soldiers. We still don’t know whether Putin has something on him. And we need to know the answers — urgently. Knowing could be devastating. Not knowing is far worse. Not knowing is a threat to a functioning democracy.
The FBI’s counterintelligence agents wondered: Why did Trump invite the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister into the Oval Office on the day after he keelhauled FBI Director James B. Comey — and brag about it? “I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told them in confidence. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Like the rest of America, the FBI learned about that conversation only from a Russian government readout. But then Trump went on television and said he had fired Comey over the FBI’s probe into ties between Team Trump and Team Putin during and after the 2016 election.
Unfortunately the counterintelligence investigation seems to have been short-circuited by the firing of Andrew McCabe and the failure of Robert Mueller to seriously investigate Trump’s connections to Russia. Here’s Weiner’s chilling conclusion:
There’s a classic story about an American agent of influence that predates the Cold War — and might presage the strange case of Donald Trump, if these questions about his relationship with Russia go dormant. Samuel Dickstein was a member of Congress from Manhattan, elected in 1922, and chairman of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee in the 1930s. He walked into the Soviet Embassy in 1937 and offered the ambassador his services for $25,000 a year — three times his congressional salary. In exchange, he sold fake passports to Soviet spies. And he held headline-grabbing public hearings investigating Joseph Stalin’s enemies in the United States. Dickstein served 11 terms in Congress. His file lay locked up in the KGB archives for 60 years. Today, if you go down to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to the intersection of Pitt and Grand streets, you’ll be standing in Samuel Dickstein Plaza. He got away with it.
A related opinion piece from today’s Washington Post by Josh Rogin: Secret CIA assessment: Putin ‘probably directing’ influence operation to denigrate Biden.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election against former vice president Joe Biden, which involves a prominent Ukrainian lawmaker connected to President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top-secret CIA assessment concluded, according to two sources who reviewed it.
On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in the November election in an internal, highly classified report called the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, the sources said. CIA analysts compiled the assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI, based on several dozen pieces of information gleaned from public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources. The assessment includes details of the CIA’s analysis of the activities of Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach to disseminate disparaging information about Biden inside the United States through lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts with figures close to the president.
“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November,” the first line of the document says, according to the sources.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Treasury Department have identified Derkach as a Russian agent, but it has not been publicly reported that the CIA, NSA and FBI believed Putin may be personally directing the campaign. Derkach has denied working on behalf of Moscow.
The CIA assessment described Derkach’s efforts in detail and said that his activities have included working through lobbyists, members of Congress and U.S. media organizations to disseminate and amplify his anti-Biden information. Though it refers to Derkach’s interactions with a “prominent” person connected to the Trump campaign, the analysis does not identify the person. Giuliani, who has been working with Derkach publicly for several months, is not named in the assessment.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Another book that is getting much more attention than Weiner’s is Andrew Weissmann’s inside account of the Mueller investigation, Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation. The book will be released next Tuesday.
George Packer interviewed Weissmann at The Atlantic: The Inside Story of the Mueller Probe’s Mistakes.
Andrew Weissmann was one of Robert Mueller’s top deputies in the special counsel’s investigation of the 2016 election, and he’s about to publish the first insider account, called Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation. The title comes from an adapted quote by the philosopher John Locke that’s inscribed on the façade of the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C.: “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”
Weissmann offers a damning indictment of a “lawless” president and his knowing accomplices—Attorney General William Barr (portrayed as a cynical liar), congressional Republicans, criminal flunkies, Fox News. Donald Trump, he writes, is “like an animal, clawing at the world with no concept of right and wrong.” But in telling the story of the investigation and its fallout, Weissmann reserves his most painful words for the Special Counsel’s Office itself. Where Law Ends portrays a group of talented, dedicated professionals beset with internal divisions and led by a man whose code of integrity allowed their target to defy them and escape accountability.
“There’s no question I was frustrated at the time,” Weissmann told me in a recent interview. “There was more that could be done that we didn’t do.” He pointed out that the special counsel’s report never arrived at the clear legal conclusions expected from an internal Justice Department document. At the same time, it lacked the explanatory power of last month’s bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on the 2016 election. “Even with 1,000 pages, it was better,” Weissmann said of the Senate report. “It made judgments and calls, instead of saying, ‘You could say this and you could say that.’”
The Mueller inquiry was the greatest potential check on Trump’s abuse of power. The press gives the president fits, but almost half the country chooses not to believe the news. Congress will protect Trump as long as his party controls at least one chamber. Local prosecutors and civil plaintiffs are severely limited in pursuing justice against a sitting president. Public opinion is immovably split and powerless until the next election. Only the Special Counsel’s Office—burrowing into the criminal matter of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a possible conspiracy with the Trump campaign, and the president’s subsequent attempts to block an investigation—offered the prospect of accountability for Trump. Mueller couldn’t try the president in court, let alone send him to prison, but he could fully expose Trump’s wrongdoing for a future prosecutor, using the enforceable power of a grand jury subpoena. The whole constitutional superstructure of checks and balances rested on Mueller and his team. As their work dragged on through 2017 and 2018, with flurries of indictments and plea deals but otherwise in utter silence, many Americans invested the inquiry with the outsized expectation that it would somehow bring Trump down.
Read the rest at the Atlantic link.
Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Mueller’s Team Should Have Done More to Investigate Trump-Russia Links, Top Aide Says.
The team led by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, failed to do everything it could to determine what happened in the 2016 election, shying away from steps like subpoenaing President Trump and scrutinizing his finances out of fear he would fire them, one of Mr. Mueller’s top lieutenants argued in the first insider account of the inquiry.
“Had we used all available tools to uncover the truth, undeterred by the onslaught of the president’s unique powers to undermine our efforts?” wrote the former prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, in a new book, adding, “I know the hard answer to that simple question: We could have done more.”
The team took elaborate steps to protect its files of evidence from the risk that the Justice Department might destroy them if Mr. Trump fired them and worked to keep reporters and the public from learning what they were up to, Mr. Weissmann wrote in “Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation,” which Random House will publish next week.
While he speaks reverently of Mr. Mueller, he also says his boss’s diffidence made him ill-suited for aspects of shepherding the politically charged investigation. He saw Mr. Mueller and his deputy, Aaron M. Zebley, as overly cautious.
Mr. Weissmann also defended against accusations by the president and his allies that he and other investigators were politically biased “angry Democrats”; Mr. Weissmann said his personal views had no bearing on the crimes that Russian operatives and Trump aides committed.
And he elevates particular details — for example, emphasizing that the same business account that sent hush payments to an adult film star who alleged an extramarital affair with Mr. Trump had also received “payments linked to a Russian oligarch.” The president has denied the affair; his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen controlled the account. Mr. Mueller transferred the Cohen matter to prosecutors in New York.
More Reads, links only:
The Washington Post: Mueller prosecutor says special counsel ‘could have done more’ to hold Trump accountable.
Book review by Jennifer Szalai at The New York Times: A Prosecutor’s Backstage Tour of the Mueller Investigation.
The American Independent: Trump says coronavirus ‘affects virtually nobody’ as death toll reaches 200,000.
The New York Times: Trump Could Be Investigated for Tax Fraud, D.A. Says for First Time.
Jane Mayer at The New Yorker: A Young Kennedy, in Kushnerland, Turned Whistle-Blower.
Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spoke out about Trump in Bob Woodward’s new book Rage; now he’s authored an op-ed in The Washington Post about the 2020 election: What’s at Stake in This Election? The American Democratic Experiment.
We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.
Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.
If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.
The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.
Coats argues that Congress should form a bipartisan commission to protect voting and ensure that Americans will see the results of the election as legitimate. Unfortunately, there’s almost no chance that Congressional Republicans would go along with such a project. They clearly support Trump’s goal of a “rigged” election.
At Vanity Fair, Chris Smith reports on Joe Biden’s preparations for dealing with election interference by Trump and his personal attorney Bill Barr: “We’re Not Going To Let Donald Trump Steal This Election”: Democrats Are Strategizing For All-Out Warfare.
Donald Trump, true to form, is stoking chaos, trying to undermine faith in the accuracy of November’s election. He has floated stationing armed guards at the 2020 polls and maintained a steady stream of lies about “rigged” mail-in ballots. Joe Biden’s counteroffensive is shaping up to be equally in character: It relies on his trust in rational process and in projecting calm. It’s a strategy that makes a great deal of sense—and also feels quaint considering Trump’s evil genius for asymmetrical warfare.
Biden has solicited the help of two former solicitors general, one former attorney general, and a small army of attorneys, building up its own law firm to beat back Trump’s attempts at voter suppression both before and after Election Day. Those lawyers are assisting in the legal battles already playing out in courts across the country that will shape the rules about whose votes get counted—in the words of Democratic strategist Brian Fallon, the “mini Bush v. Gores.” The lawyers and the vast voter-protection program being rolled out by the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee are designed to do two things: ensure that all legitimate votes are counted, and bolster Democratic turnout by raising confidence that their votes will be counted. Biden’s second tactic is more subtle, and riskier: By not engaging directly and loudly with Trump’s claims of rampant fraud, Team Biden believes it will reduce the potency of the president’s frenetic disinformation.
We’ll see. We all remember how the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in 2000.
When Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor and a cofounder of the Transition Integrity Project, brought together dozens of party veterans, pollsters, and media players to simulate outcomes, only one scenario—a Biden landslide—led to a fairly orderly transfer of power. The rest devolved into a constitutional crisis mixed with street violence. “The Democratic elites, God bless them, have had a lot of faith, historically, in institutions and the law,” Brooks says. “But our exercises underscored the tremendous advantage the first mover has in a disputed election, and the tremendous structural advantage of incumbency….The president can have Bill Barr initiate a politically motivated investigation. And I think we can expect all kinds of efforts, legal and extralegal, to stop the counting and to challenge mail-in ballots.”
The Biden campaign and the DNC certainly see all the potential for Trumpian mischief—and Ron Klain, one of Biden’s longtime senior advisers, was a senior adviser to Gore in 2000. So the campaign has constructed “the largest election-protection program in presidential campaign history,” a Biden strategist says. Biden allies have met with major media executives, urging them to be cautious in calling states on election night when millions of mail-in ballots will have yet to be processed. Another hopeful sign is that the Biden campaign is leaning on the expertise of Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo, who managed Abrams’s 2018 run for Georgia governor and now runs Fair Fight, the group Abrams founded to push for, well, fairness in elections.
Read the whole thing at Vanity Fair.
Meanwhile, Bill Barr has come out as a full-on fascist. He seems to be working overtime to out-Trump Trump. Remember how Barr helped clear Lafayette Square so that Trump could have a photo-op with a bible? The Washington Post reveals more details about that episode: Federal officials stockpiled munitions, sought ‘heat ray’ device before clearing Lafayette Square, whistleblower says.
Hours before law enforcement forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square in early June amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd, federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and sces that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire, according to an Army National Guard major who was there.
D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.
In sworn testimony, shared this week with The Washington Post, DeMarco provided his account as part of an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers’ use of force against D.C. protesters….
DeMarco’s account contradicts the administration’s claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse — a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. His testimony also offers a glimpse into the equipment and weaponry federal forces had — and others that they sought — during the early days of protests that have continued for more than 100 days in the nation’s capital.
DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.
[Emphasis added.] Recall that Barr was seen inspecting the protests before officers attacked the crowd. Now Barr wants to charge protesters with trying to overthrow the government and actually suggested criminally charging the mayor of Seattle. The New York Times: Barr Told Prosecutors to Consider Sedition Charges for Protest Violence.
Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.
The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who described Mr. Barr’s comments on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. Late Wednesday, a department spokesman said that Mr. Barr did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea….
During a speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Barr noted that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases. He did not mention Ms. Durkan or the sedition statute.
“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”
More stories on Bill Barr’s latest crazy rantings:
Steve Benen at MSNBC: AG Bill Barr’s election deceptions go from bad to worse.
The Washington Post: Barr accuses Justice Department of headhunting and meddling with politics.
A couple more related stories:
Neal Kaytal and Joshua Geltzer at The New York Times: This Is How Bad It’s Gotten at the Justice Department.
In his time as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr has alienated many federal prosecutors. The latest appears to be Nora Dannehy, a longtime prosecutor who has resigned from the department, where she was part of a team looking into the Russia investigation.
We don’t know for sure exactly what happened; she isn’t talking, nor is Mr. Barr. But The Hartford Courant, which broke the story, reported that Ms. Dannehy’s colleagues said that she departed because of Mr. Barr’s politicization — in particular, because Mr. Barr is evidently eager to break drastically with past practice and issue an incomplete report intended to help President Trump in his re-election efforts.
Her resignation looks like part of an extremely troubling pattern. Earlier this year, highly respected prosecutors in the Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases dramatically resigned or withdrew. One of them testified to Congress that the Justice Department under Mr. Barr was treating Mr. Stone “differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president.” The Justice Department inspector general has opened an investigation.
When civil servants resign, skeptics often ask what difference one person really can make by leaving. The answer is simple: a lot. Ms. Dannehy’s departure isn’t just likely a major assertion of integrity by her; it’s also a big problem for Mr. Barr — and therefore for Mr. Trump.
Head over to the NYT to read the rest.
Julia Davis at The Daily Beast: Russian Media Is Rooting for Civil War in America: ‘The Worse, the Better.’
State-controlled media’s slant is a telling indicator of the Kremlin’s leanings. To imagine the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his massive media apparatus, one may reference the coziness between Sean Hannity and Trump—and magnify that intensity tenfold, with directives flowing only from the top down. Obsessed with retaining his dominance and fully realizing the power of propaganda, Putin leaves nothing to chance….
Russian lawmakers, state media experts and pundits on tightly-choreographed TV shows openly reveal that the Kremlin is still rooting for Trump. But Moscow has a growing concern that this time around, their preferred candidate might lose. Appearing on a state TV show The Right To Know, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-funded propaganda networks RT and Sputnik, said about Trump’s chances of re-election: “I think Trump will lose, but then I think there will be a major blow-up from the standpoint of accepting or not accepting the outcome of the election. They’ll be battling over that for a long time, who knows how it might end.”
Having openly wished for Trump to drive the United States into civil war, Russian state media figures are now relishing that idea with renewed enthusiasm. They believe it would destabilize America to such an extent as to undermine its very sovereignty, thereby untying the Kremlin’s hands to wreak even more havoc upon the Western world. Appearing on Russia’s state TV show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky explained his belief that U.S. elections “can be considered America’s internal affairs only up to the point when an actual civil war starts there.” The idea of a coup d’état seems all but inevitable, Drobnitsky argued: “The loser in this election would be an idiot to accept the outcome.”
Russian state media repeatedly echoed Trump, who is doing the Kremlin’s bidding by attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, falsely suggesting that mail-in voting is completely fraudulent, and that Democrats are rigging the process to falsify the outcome. There is no doubt that the Kremlin would align with Trump in case of a contested election, as the groundwork for accusing the Democrats of fraud has been laid in advance.
Russian state media analysts also make no secret as to the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. Writing for the newspaper Kommersant, Dmitry Kosyrev, political columnist for state media outlet RIA Novosti, pondered: “Is Trump ours?” This popular refrain can be interpreted in one of several ways: to signify Russia’s hold over the American president, to express that Trump’s position is in perfect alignment with that of the Kremlin—meaning, “he is on our side”—or to signal Russia’s preference: “He is the one we choose.”
Things are getting really scary. Unbelievably, this year’s election will likely be much worse than 2016. I don’t know what more to say. I guess we just have to take it one day at a time, and hope that Biden and the Democrats have the guts to stand up for democracy.
Take care, Sky Dancers!
The virtual Democratic National Convention turned out to be pretty inspiring. One of the nicest moments came when 13-year-old Brayden Harrington spoke about how Joe Biden helped him with his stuttering. Here’s the video of their first meeting.
Biden followed through and shared with Braden he overcame his own difficulties with stuttering. John Hendrickson wrote about Biden’s story in The Atlantic early this year. Hendrickson himself also struggles with stuttering.
Hendrickson wrote about Braden at The Atlantic yesterday: Stuttering Through It. How a 13-year-old boy delivered the best speech of the Democratic National Convention.
You could hear the stutter in Brayden’s lungs, all those heavy inhalations, his search for sounds that wouldn’t come. The 13-year-old stared into a stationary camera and told the world about his problem, the affliction he shares with 3 million Americans, one of whom is now the Democratic nominee for president.
“Without Joe Biden, I wouldn’t be talking with you today,” Brayden began. A big smile revealed braces. “About a few … months ago I met him in New Hampshire. He told me that we were members of the same club: Wuh-w-we
… sssssss … sssssstutter.”
That last word—the S-word—took the air out of American living rooms tonight.
It’s one thing to wake up every morning with a neurological disability and face your classmates. It’s another to address a national audience when you know what’s going to happen—that a particular letter or sound is coming down the line, that it’ll all fall apart.
You probably first noticed Brayden’s disfluency on the w and s sounds. Purse your lips and say we as you read this sentence. Do you feel that tension around your mouth? That contraction of your jaw? Now say the word stutter, but hold the s for a few seconds before getting to the t. Do you feel that pressure? That twinge in your chest? Odds are you’re lucky, and you could finish those words on demand. Now imagine you can’t. Imagine it’s not just w and s, but j and l and m and at least a dozen more. The h sound is notoriously difficult, as in here—the thing you’re required to say each morning at the start of school. Many stutterers have trouble with b, as in Biden. Or Brayden.
Consider the emotional maturity it takes at Brayden’s age to talk about his personal struggle—especially when that personal struggle is talking, when it’s hard to talk at all, when it hurts to speak….
He stood up and delivered his speech, and stuttered through it, and said all the words he wanted to say. He told a powerful story in just over two minutes, which is more than some other DNC speakers can claim.
Brayden Harrington, the teen who shared his story on the final night of the Democratic National Convention about how Joe Biden helped him with his stutter, told NBC News Friday it has boosted his confidence and is pushing him to help other kids like him.
“It will change my future,” Harrington, 13, told Nightly News’ Lester Holt in an appearance that will air Friday night. “And I have this thought going around my head that I kind of want to be a therapist when I grow up to help other children in need and other people in need. And that just really is heartwarming to me because some people really need some help with what’s going on.”
He added, “They’ve been hit mentally, too, sometimes with some people mocking them. And it’s just really nice to know that I have that thought in my mind that I want to be a therapist and help these people.”
Harrington, who said he’s been made fun of for his stutter, met Biden in New Hampshire earlier this year and he said he was moved to know that someone of the former vice president’s stature struggled with it as well.
“I knew that I wasn’t alone and someone knew what I was going through,” Harrington said, describing his relationship with Biden as “a tiny little friendship.” [….]
Harrington said after his appearance he received an outpouring of support and well wishes on social media, mostly from parents whose children also stutter. The teen said he sees himself as a hero to other kids.
“And that just made me feel really nice about how I made that address and how that’s impacted a bunch of children’s lives,” he told Nightly News.
Try to imagine Trump helped someone like that and inspiring that person to help others. You can’t. Trump would make fun of the kid and of Biden for trying to help him.
Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: Joe Biden, America’s Un-Trump.
Biden is not running for President to reform American health care, or to rebuild our infrastructure, or to restore our overseas alliances, although he hopes to do all those things. He is running to be the un-Trump. This is what Biden began his campaign with a year and a half ago, and it is undoubtedly what he will end it with, seventy-five days from now. In his rousing, emotional, and surprisingly effective acceptance speech to the all-virtual Democratic National Convention, on Thursday night, it took Biden barely a sentence before he got to the point. “The current President has cloaked America in darkness for much too long,” he said, staring directly into the camera, a wall of sixteen American flags behind him. “Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division.”
For the next twenty-four minutes or so, the former Vice-President talked of character and decency, of the “soul of America” and the wrenching test that it now faces. It’s a message that has changed very little—except in its urgency—since the spring of 2019, when Biden announced his campaign in a video in which he called Trump a “threat to this nation . . . unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime” and warned that the 2020 election would be a “battle for the soul of the nation.” “Everything that has made America America is at stake,” Biden said then, and that was before a deadly pandemic and its resulting economic crisis, before a wave of national protest over racial injustice that Trump has exploited as no President before him.
On Thursday night, Biden was even clearer and more assertive: Trump, he said, is a “President who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators, and fans the flames of hate and division.” Trump believes “the job is all about him, never about you,” Biden said, and he has brought America to an “inflection point,” a “life-changing election” from which there is no turning away.
Without this clarity, Biden would not be the Democratic nominee….
Now seventy-seven and a two-time loser in Presidential politics, Biden has finally won the nomination that he first sought nearly four decades ago. And, on Thursday, he showed how he plans to run against Trump this fall, by making the case against him in simple, factual, devastating terms: five million Americans infected with covid-19, more than a hundred and seventy thousand dead, fifty million unemployed—and “the President still does not have a plan.” Biden signalled that he will make it a choice not between Republicans and Democrats but between Trump and not-Trump.
How will Trump and the Republicans who still support him respond to Biden’s and the Democrats’ message during their convention next week? Even they aren’t sure what they’ll do.
The Republican National Convention opens in just two days, but planners have yet to provide a final schedule or other key details about what will take place during the gathering that will culminate in the nomination of President Donald Trump for a second term.
Officials have confirmed the identities of a dozen or so convention speakers, but not when they will be speaking, where they will be, or what they will be talking about….
Even aides to the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, seemed confused about whether he would have a convention speaking role. McConnell’s re-election campaign said Thursday he would be campaigning in his home state and would not be speaking at the event. Hours later, a campaign source said there had been “a miscommunication” and that the senator would submit taped remarks to be played at the convention….
There are many reasons for seeming chaos, officials said, including Trump’s insistence on approving most decisions and the egos of people who want prime-time speaking slots.
“You’ve got many senior Republicans who have higher approval ratings than Trump, and so that’s playing into who wants to be seen at the convention and who doesn’t,” Eberhart said.
The event, which opens Monday and closes Thursday night with Trump’s acceptance speech at the White House, will be a far cry from the glitz of conventions past, primarily because of the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. The convention is expected to be a mostly virtual affair, although small crowds are expected at some events.
I expect the GOP virtual gathering will be the opposite of the DNC production–filled with negativity and Trump’s gross, egotistical babbling.
More stories to check out today:
Lincoln Journal-Star: McCollister endorses Biden, invites other Nebraska Republicans to join.
The New York Times: Ex-Green Beret Charged With Spying for Russia in Elaborate Scheme.
Vladimir Kara-Murza at The Washington Post: The world must pay attention to the suspected poisoning of Alexei Navalny. My own case shows why.
Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! Please check in if you have time and inclination.
As usual, there is way too much news this morning. How have we survived nearly four years of this? The U.S. is leading the world in cases and deaths during a historic global pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans. The U.S. economy is a raging dumpster fire that has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest Americans.
The so-called “president” couldn’t care less about the death and destruction that his neglect of his duties has caused. He’s far too busy trying to steal the 2020 election and achieve his goal of becoming a dictator.
More evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia and his idol Vladimir Putin has emerged in recent days, and it really looks as if he has been getting lessons from Putin in how do to the U.S. what Putin did to Russia. Meanwhile Putin appears to have poisoned his primary political opponent. Is he telling Trump how to do that too?
Today is the fourth day of the virtual Democratic National Convention. Last night was pretty dramatic. Kamala Harris accepted the nomination for Vice President. She is first woman of color and the first Asian-American to do so. Before Harris spoke, former President Obama gave a merciless critique of Trump’s failed leadership and issued a dire warning about the future of our democracy. Tonight Joe Biden will accept the nomination for President.
On the breaking news from Russia
The Daily Beast: Putin Critic Alexey Navalny Allegedly Poisoned by Toxin in His Tea.
MOSCOW—Vladimir Putin’s nemesis, corruption fighter Aleksey Navalny, is fighting for his life in a Siberian hospital after allegedly being poisoned at an airport while travelling to Moscow.
Navalny’s closest aide, Kira Yarmysh, said Navalny was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea at Tomsk airport early Thursday morning. He then boarded a flight to the Russian capital but fell violently ill en route. Taken from the aircraft on a stretcher after it was diverted to the city of Omsk, the opposition leader is in intensive care, relying on a respirator to breathe.
A Russian DJ who was on the same flight recorded a video that showed medical help arriving after the plane landed in Omsk. Navalny’s screams could be heard in the background.
Yarmysh said she knew immediately what had happened to her colleague: “A year ago, when Aleksey was in a detention center, he was poisoned. Obviously, now they’ve done the same thing to him again,” she wrote on Twitter.
Navalny’s friend, former lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov is convinced this was yet another assassination attempt on an opponent of Putin. “Ever since Boris Nemtsov was murdered by the wall of the Kremlin, all of us knew who was going to be their next target—but Aleksey and I avoided talking about that,” Gudkov told The Daily Beast.
Read more at BBC News: Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader ‘poisoned’
On the Democratic National Convention
DECLARING “LET’S fight with conviction, let’s fight with hope, let’s fight with confidence,” Kamala D. Harris made history on Wednesday night in accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president. The California senator’s address was the nation’s first broad introduction to the first Black woman ever on a major party presidential ticket.
The daughter of immigrants, she described her family’s only-in-America story. She also highlighted racial inequities that continue to plague American society, including the disproportionate suffering communities of color have endured during the covid-19 pandemic. But Ms. Harris, who has won several elections in the nation’s most populous state and boasts an impressive record as a prosecutor, state attorney general and U.S. senator, did not serve merely as an avatar of one demographic group or another. The vision she offered was of universal values — and the need to restore them after the presidency of Donald Trump. She lamented that “the constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone.” She offered an alternative in which “we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”
In other elections, such sentiments might feel trite. In this one, they draw a clear distinction with the incumbent president. Former president Barack Obama drove that point home before Ms. Harris spoke. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” he said. “The consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead; millions of jobs, gone, while those at the top take in more than ever; our worst impulses unleashed; our proud reputation around the world badly diminished.”
Former President Barack Obama delivered his sharpest broadside yet against President Donald Trump, blasting his successor as unserious and self-centered and cautioning that core democratic institutions have been imperiled by the Trump presidency.
“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But he never did.”
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama continued. “And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
Obama portrayed the president as a catastrophically ineffective leader who has used the office only to benefit himself and his friends and spoke with an urgency not often seen from a man who has largely declined to weigh in on the Trump outrage du jour. Trump, he said, views the presidency as no more than a “reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
He dismissed Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, asserting that “our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.”
Also see Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Obama’s Convention Speech Is the First Time I Have Seen Him Scared.
On the Senate Intelligence Committee’s latest report on Trump and Russia
Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: Russiagate Was Not a Hoax.
Rereading the Mueller report more than a year after its publication is an exercise in disappointment. One gets the feeling that Robert Mueller didn’t press his inquiry to its end. Instead of settling the questions that haunt the 2016 campaign, he left them dangling, publishing a stilted document riddled with insinuation and lacunae. He rushed his work, closing up shop before finishing his assignment.
While Mueller received all the hype, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence kept its head down. Yesterday, having avoided cable speculation almost entirely, the SSCI released the fifth and final volume of a report on Russia’s attempt to sway the last election in Donald Trump’s favor. It finally delivered what Mueller either could not or would not: a comprehensive presentation of the evidence in the matter of “collusion.” The report confirms that Russiagate is no hoax. Whether or not the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with the Kremlin, Trump has no grounds for proclaiming vindication, much less that he’s the victim of a witch hunt….
Mueller’s team referred to Manafort’s Kyiv-based aide-de-camp, Konstantin Kilimnik, as an active Russian agent. Manafort had clearly spoken with Kilimnik during the campaign, and had even passed confidential campaign information to him, with the understanding that the documents would ultimately arrive in the hands of oligarchs close to the Kremlin….
The committee…reports that Manafort and Kilimnik talked almost daily during the campaign. They communicated through encrypted technologies set to automatically erase their correspondence; they spoke using code words and shared access to an email account. It’s worth pausing on these facts: The chairman of the Trump campaign was in daily contact with a Russian agent, constantly sharing confidential information with him. That alone makes for one of the worst scandals in American political history.
The significant revelation of the document is that Kilimnik was likely a participant in the Kremlin scheme to hack and leak Clinton campaign emails. Furthermore, Kilimnik kept in close contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a former client of Manafort’s. The report also indicates that Deripaska was connected to his government’s hacking efforts. This fact is especially suggestive: Deripaska had accused Manafort of stealing money from him, and Manafort hoped to repair his relationship with the oligarch. Was Manafort passing information to him, through Kilimnik, for the sake of currying favor with an old patron?
Also see The New York Times Editorial Board: The Trump Campaign Accepted Russian Help to Win in 2016. Case Closed. Too bad the NYT can’t admit how wrong they were in 2016 and issue a long-needed apology to Hillary Clinton and the American people.
On Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election:
Joanne Lipman and Edward B. Foley at The Washington Post: If we don’t dispel the falsehood of an election ‘delay’ now, we risk chaos in November.
President Trump is ramping up his attacks on mail-in voting by insisting election results “must” be known on election night. “No more big election night answers?” he tweeted last month. “Ridiculous! Just a formula for RIGGING an Election . . .”
The news media have pushed back on his baseless claims of fraud. But they agree with him on one point: There is likely to be a “delay” in election results because of a surge in mail-in votes.
But that’s wrong. If results aren’t known on election night, that doesn’t mean there’s a delay. The fact is, there are never official results on election night. There never have been.
Predictions of a delay rest on a misunderstanding of the vote-counting process — a misunderstanding that is both dangerous and hugely consequential. If election-night results are considered the norm, and what happens this year is described as a “delay,” it will be easy to paint the result as problematic — and for Trump to continue to spread suspicions about the entire process.
Concerns about a supposed delay stem from a coronavirus-fueled interest in absentee and mail-in ballots. In a July survey of more than 19,000 Americans, 41 percent of those who plan to vote said they were “very likely” to vote by mail this year, and another 23 percent said they would be “somewhat likely” to do so. That compares with 21 percent who voted by mail in 2016, “which itself was a historic high,” the survey, conducted by a consortium of universities, noted. Counting those ballots could potentially take days or weeks, which means projecting a winner on election night may not be possible.
Yet even if counting takes several weeks, that wouldn’t constitute a delay — because by law, election results aren’t official until more than a month after the election.
I will highlight more important stories in the comment thread.
Take care of yourselves today Sky Dancers! We will survive because we must. Take care of yourselves and those you love today and every day.
I’m somewhat distracted this morning. My mother was taken to the hospital last night because she had a low oxygen saturation level and acute abdominal pain. At the hospital, a CAT scan showed she has pneumonia. She is on oxygen to help her breathe. A quick Covid test was negative and they are waiting for the results of a second slower Covid test.
My Mom is 95 years old. I just don’t want her to suffer. My worst nightmare is that she gets the coronavirus. The staff at the assisted living place where she lives have been very careful and she has had regular Covid tests. I just hope and pray she will recover and be with us a little longer.
Today’s Recommended Reads:
Whatever you do, don’t miss this Slate article by William Saletan: The Trump Pandemic. A blow-by-blow account of how the president killed thousands of Americans.
On July 17, President Donald Trump sat for a Fox News interview at the White House. At the time, nearly 140,000 Americans were dead from the novel coronavirus. The interviewer, Chris Wallace, showed Trump a video clip in which Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned of a difficult fall and winter ahead. Trump dismissed the warning. He scoffed that experts had misjudged the virus all along. “Everybody thought this summer it would go away,” said Trump. “They used to say the heat, the heat was good for it and it really knocks it out, remember? So they got that one wrong.”
Trump’s account was completely backward. Redfield and other U.S. public health officials had never promised that heat would knock out the virus. In fact, they had cautioned against that assumption. The person who had held out the false promise of a warm-weather reprieve, again and again, was Trump. And he hadn’t gotten the idea from any of his medical advisers. He had gotten it from Xi Jinping, the president of China, in a phone call in February.
The phone call, the talking points Trump picked up from it, and his subsequent attempts to cover up his alliance with Xi are part of a deep betrayal. The story the president now tells—that he “built the greatest economy in history,” that China blindsided him by unleashing the virus, and that Trump saved millions of lives by mobilizing America to defeat it—is a lie. Trump collaborated with Xi, concealed the threat, impeded the U.S. government’s response, silenced those who sought to warn the public, and pushed states to take risks that escalated the tragedy. He’s personally responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.
This isn’t speculation. All the evidence is in the public record. But the truth, unlike Trump’s false narrative, is scattered in different places. It’s in emails, leaks, interviews, hearings, scientific reports, and the president’s stray remarks. This article puts those fragments together. It documents Trump’s interference or negligence in every stage of the government’s failure: preparation, mobilization, public communication, testing, mitigation, and reopening.
Trump has always been malignant and incompetent. As president, he has coasted on economic growth, narrowly averted crises of his own making, and corrupted the government in ways that many Americans could ignore. But in the pandemic, his vices—venality, dishonesty, self-absorption, dereliction, heedlessness—turned deadly. They produced lies, misjudgments, and destructive interventions that multiplied the carnage. The coronavirus debacle isn’t, as Trump protests, an “artificial problem” that spoiled his presidency. It’s the fulfillment of everything he is.
Please go read the whole thing. It’s essential reading.
Richard North Patterson at The Bulwark: The Ravings of Mad King Trump. On the pandemic, the economy, health care, and his 2020 opponent, he is utterly detached from reality.
To a striking degree, Donald Trump’s administration evokes the final days of the mad king of some Ruritanian backwater, spewing splenetic ravings while his shrinking cadre of sycophants struggles to steer their foundering ship of state.
Take these incoherent ruminations from a mid-July press conference:
But we had, in 2016, something even more so, but we got in, and we had 306 to, I guess, 223, which was a tremendous margin of difference. You remember, they all said, “He cannot get to 270.” I went to Maine a number of times, where we just freed up lobster fishing and fishing. Just—they took away 5,000 square miles from Maine. I just opened it up. And I just got rid of tariffs in China. And we’re working on European Union, which charge our fishermen tariffs. And I said, “You’re not going to do that.” So we freed it up for Maine. But if you take a look, we went up there recently. There were crowds. Thousands of people lined up going over to a factory where we were opening up for—we’re making swabs. A beautiful, big, new factory, making swabs.
Problem is, he does this pretty much every day.
Emulating a frightened oldster hearing the first, faint echo of senescence like a distant signal on a transistor radio, Trump bragged to Chris Wallace about acing a test designed to detect the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. But his problem is different—instead of entering his second childhood, Trump seems never to have left his first.
These recurring scenes from a Peter Sellers movie might have a certain seriocomic fascination had Trump not failed the most serious test of real-world leadership: a rolling public health disaster which has afflicted sickness, death, and privation on many millions of Americans.
Allan Sloan at ProPublica: The CARES Act Sent You a $1,200 Check but Gave Millionaires and Billionaires Far More.
The best-known feature of the CARES Act, as it’s known, is the cash grant of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child for households whose income was less than $99,000 for single taxpayers and $198,000 for couples. These grants are nontaxable, which makes them even more valuable. Some 159 million stimulus payments have gone out, according to the IRS.
The income limits suggested that the plan benefits the people most in need, those most likely to spend their stimulus payments and thus help the economy. The rhetoric conveyed the same: “The CARES Act Provides Assistance to Workers And Their Families” is how the Treasury’s website puts it. There were no grants to more-fortunate people, who for the most part aren’t in financial distress and are less likely than the less-fortunate to spend any money that Uncle Sam sent them.
But when I began looking at details of the legislation, I realized that several of its provisions quietly provided benefits that were worth much more than $1,200 to some upper-middle-class people who didn’t qualify for stimulus payments. Some other provisions provided vastly bigger benefits to the rich, to corporations and to a relative handful of ultra-rich folks.
So let me show you five provisions of the legislation that benefited the upper middle class (including yours truly); the families of Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; high-income people who make large charitable donations; and Boeing and other corporations that are showing losses; as well as indirectly benefited people who have substantial investments in U.S. stocks.
These five provisions that help the well-heeled will cost the Treasury — which is to say, U.S. taxpayers — an estimated $257.95 billion for the 2020 calendar year. That’s nearly as much as the estimated $292.37 billion price tag for the stimulus grants to regular folks.
Read the rest at ProPublica.
George Conway with a devastating satire about Trump supporters: I (still) believe the president, and in the president.
I believe the president Made America Great Again. I believe we need him reelected to Make America Great Again Again.
I believe Joe Biden is “Sleepy” and “weak.” I believe Biden could “hurt God” and the Bible.
I believe that if Biden is elected, there will be “no religion, no anything,” and he would confiscate all guns, “immediately and without notice.” He would “abolish” “our great,” “beautiful suburbs,” not to mention “the American way of life.” There would be “no windows, no nothing” in buildings.
I believe it’s normal for the president to say “Yo Semites” and “Yo Seminites,” “Thigh Land,” “Minne-a-napolis,” “toe-tally-taria-tism,” “Thomas Jeffers” and “Ulyss-eus S. Grant.” I believe it’s Biden who’s cognitively impaired.
I believe the president “aced” a “very hard” impairment test, and that his “very surprised” doctors found this “unbelievable.” I believe it was “amazing” he remembered five words, such as “person, woman, man, camera, TV” — in correct order. I believe he took the SAT himself.
I believe the president has “a natural ability,” like his “great, super-genius uncle” from MIT, which is why he understands “that whole world” of virology and epidemiology.
Read the rest at The Washington Post. It’s devastating, and every single claim is documented.
One more by Richard Haas at Foreign Policy: Present at the Disruption. How Trump Unmade U.S. Foreign Policy.
Present at the Creation is an 800-page memoir written by Dean Acheson, U.S. President Harry Truman’s secretary of state. The title, with its biblical echo, was immodest, but in Acheson’s defense, it was deserved.
Working from planning begun under President Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and his senior advisers built nothing less than a new international order in the wake of World War II. The United States adopted the doctrine of containment, which would guide U.S. foreign policy for four decades in its Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. It transformed Germany and Japan into democracies and built a network of alliances in Asia and Europe. It provided the aid Europe needed to get back on its feet under the Marshall Plan and channeled economic and military assistance to countries vulnerable to communism under the Truman Doctrine. It established a host of international organizations, including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the forerunner to the World Trade Organization). And it constructed a modern foreign and defense policy apparatus, including the National Security Council, the CIA, and the Department of Defense.
It is impossible to imagine one of the national security principals of the Trump administration writing a memoir that includes the word “creation” in its title. The problem is not just that little has been built over the past three and a half years. Building has simply not been a central aim of this administration’s foreign policy. To the contrary, the president and the frequently changing cast of officials around him have been much more interested in tearing things apart. A more fitting title for an administration memoir would be Present at the Disruption….
As with health care and the Affordable Care Act, when it came to foreign policy, Trump inherited an imperfect but valuable system and tried to repeal it without offering a substitute. The result is a United States and a world that are considerably worse off. This disruption will leave an enduring mark. And if such disruption continues or accelerates, which there is every reason to believe it will if Donald Trump is elected to a second term, then “destruction” might well become a more apt term to describe this period of U.S. foreign policy.
Take care of yourselves today and please check in if you feel up to it. We love hearing from you!