Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump “Drunk on Power” — John Brennan

Blue Iris, Vian Risanto

Good Afternoon!!

It has been another disastrous week in Trumpland. The “president” seems to be losing what control he ever had. He spends his days watching TV, throwing tantrums on Twitter, and dreaming up ways to punish his many “enemies.” He’s Nixon on steroids, and the Republicans continue to refuse to do anything to check his corruption and abuses of power.

On Wednesday, Trump unilaterally revoked the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan, and despite condemnations by former members of the intelligence community, he plans to keep revoking the clearances of anyone who dares to criticize him or who may have been in some way involved with the Russia investigation.

The Washington Post: White House drafts more clearance cancellations demanded by Trump.

The White House has drafted documents revoking the security clearances of current and former officials whom President Trump has demanded be punished for criticizing him or playing a role in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to senior administration officials.

Trump wants to sign “most if not all” of them, said one senior White House official, who indicated that communications aides, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine, the newly named deputy chief of staff, have discussed the optimum times to release them as a distraction during unfavorable news cycles.

Cocktail dress, Vian Risanto

Yes, they admit these will be used to distract the public on bad news days for Trump!

Some presidential aides echoed concerns raised by outside critics that the threatened revocations smack of a Nixonian enemies list, with little or no substantive national security justification. Particular worry has been expressed inside the White House about Trump’s statement Friday that he intends “very quickly” to strip the clearance of current Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations….

It was unclear what the argument would be for revoking Ohr’s clearance, since Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, while not specifying Ohr’s current job, has said he has had no involvement in the Mueller investigation, begun last year.

But Ohr knew Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who was hired in 2016 by Fusion GPS, then working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Ohr’s wife also worked for Fusion GPS. According to news reports and congressional testimony, the two men discussed Trump before the election. Ohr later reported the conversation to the FBI.

Ohr is the only current official on the White House list of clearances Trump wants to lift. The others are former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former FBI director James B. Comey; Obama national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former FBI officials Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok; and former acting attorney general Sally Yates. Several of them have said they no longer have clearances.

It’s difficult to believe that Trump’s actions could not be seen as obstruction of justice and witness tampering, since many of those on the “enemies list” are potential witnesses in Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yesterday, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake addressed the issue: How Trump’s security-clearance gambit could actually get him in deeper trouble with Mueller.

Green chair, Vian Risanto

I was on an MSNBC panel Thursday night with Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, who suggested Trump’s revocation of security clearances could be construed as retaliation against witnesses. “It’s a federal crime — §1513 if anyone wants to look it up — to retaliate against someone for providing truthful information to law enforcement,” he said. “So he’s getting closer and closer to really dangerous ground here.”

Here’s the text of Section 1513(e):

Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

Honig explained to me Friday that he didn’t necessarily think Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance would be a violation, given Brennan isn’t a major figure on the probe’s key events. But if he presses on and does it with others, Honig argued, it could.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed John Brennan. Talking Point Memo: Brennan On Revoked Clearance: ‘This Country Is More Important Than Mr. Trump.’

Former CIA Director John Brennan was defiant Friday night in response to President Donald Trump’s revocation of his security clearance, and to Trump’s threatening to revoke the clearances of several other former intelligence and national security officials who’ve become harsh critics of his.

Vian Risanto

“I think this is an egregious act that it flies in the face of traditional practice, as well as common sense, as well as national security,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “I think that’s why there’s been such an outcry from many intelligence professionals.”

Brennan told Maddow that he is thinking about taking legal action.

“A number of lawyers have reached out to say that there is a very strong case here, not so much to reclaim [my clearance] but to prevent this from happening in the future,” Brennan told Maddow, asked if he was considering legal action against the administration.

Some groups, including the ACLU, have alleged that revoking Brennan’s clearance in retaliation for his criticism of Trump, as the White House said was the case, was a violation of the former CIA director’s First Amendment rights.

Brennan repeated his accusation that Trump’s Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir was “nothing short of treasonous.”

And he said a Washington Post report that his clearance revocation had been timed “to divert attention from nonstop coverage of a critical book released by fired Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman” was “just another demonstration of [Trump’s] irresponsibility.”

“The fact that he’s using a security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly — I don’t want to use this term, maybe — but he’s drunk on power.”

Three reactions to Trump’s latest power grab to check out:

A night out, Vian Risanto

Tim Weiner at The New York Times: Trump Is Not a King.

In times of crisis, the leaders of the military and intelligence communities try to put aside their differences, often many and sundry, and work together for the good of the country. That’s what’s happening today with a remarkable group of retired generals, admirals and spymasters who have signed up for the resistance, telling the president of the United States, in so many words, that he is not a king.

Thirteen former leaders of the Pentagon, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have signed an open letter standing foursquare against President Trump, in favor of freedom of speech and, crucially, for the administration of justice. They have served presidents going back to Richard M. Nixon mostly without publicly criticizing the political conduct of a sitting commander in chief — until now.

They rebuked Mr. Trump for revoking the security clearance of John Brennan, the C.I.A. director under President Obama, in retaliation for his scalding condemnations and, ominously, for his role in “the rigged witch hunt” — the investigation into Russia’s attempt to fix the 2016 election, now in the hands of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. The president’s latest attempt to punish or silence everyone connected with the case, along with his fiercest critics in political life, will not be his last….

The president aims to rid the government and the airwaves of his real and imagined enemies, especially anyone connected with the Russia investigation. Somewhere Richard Nixon may be looking up and smiling. But aboveground, the special counsel is taking notes.

Lily, Vian Risanto

The list of the signatories to the open letter defending Mr. Brennan is striking for the length and breadth of their experience. I never expected to see William H. Webster — he’s 95 years old, served nine years as F. B.I. director under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, then four more as C.I.A. director under Reagan and President George H. W. Bush — sign a political petition like this. The same with Robert M. Gates, who entered the C.I.A. under President Lyndon Johnson, ran it under George H. W. Bush and served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. These are not the kind of men who march on Washington. These are men who were marched upon.

Read more at the NYT.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Is Making the Department of Justice Into His Own Private Goon Squad.

One morning earlier this week during executive time, President Trump tweeted out his assessment of the Russia investigation. “The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the ‘originators and founders’ of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity,” he raged. “All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds. No Collusion!”

Amid this torrent of lies, the president had identified one important truth. There has in fact been a series of firings and demotions of law-enforcement officials. The casualties include FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, general counsel James Baker, and, most recently, agent Peter Strzok. Robert Mueller is probing the circumstances surrounding Trump’s firing of Comey for a possible obstruction-of-justice charge. But for Trump, obstruction of justice is not so much a discrete act as a way of life.

The slowly unfolding purge, one of the most vivid expressions of Trump’s governing ethos, has served several purposes for the president. First, it has removed from direct authority a number of figures Trump suspects would fail to provide him the personal loyalty he demanded from Comey and expects from all officials in the federal government. Second, it supplies evidence for Trump’s claim that he is being hounded by trumped-up charges — just look at all the crooked officials who have been fired! Third, it intimidates remaining officials with the threat of firing and public humiliation if they take any actions contrary to Trump’s interests. Simply carrying out the law now requires a measure of personal bravery.

Trump has driven home this last factor through a series of taunts directed at his vanquished foes. After McCabe enraged Trump by approving a flight home for Comey after his firing last May, the president told him to ask his wife (who had run for state legislature, unsuccessfully) how it felt to be a loser. This March, Trump fired McCabe and has since tweeted that Comey and McCabe are “clowns and losers.” The delight Trump takes in tormenting his victims, frequently calling attention to Strzok’s extramarital affair — as if Trump actually cared about fidelity! — underscores his determination to strip his targets of their dignity.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Bob Bauer at Lawfare: Richard Nixon, Donald Trump and the ‘Breach of Faith.’

Red couch, Vian Risanto

Journalist and presidential historian Theodore H. White thought of Richard Nixon’s downfall as the consequence of a “breach of faith.” Perhaps it was a “myth,” but an important one, that “is responsibility,” White wrote. But it was important nonetheless that Americans believe that this office, conferring extraordinary power, would “burn the dross from [the president’s] character; his duties would, by their very weight, make him a superior man, fit to sustain the burden of the law, wise and enduring enough to resist the clash of all selfish interests.”

A president who frustrates this expectation, failing to exhibit the transformative effects of oath and office, will have broken faith with the American public. And yet, White believed that Nixon’s presidency had been an aberration. “[M]any stupid, hypocritical and limited men had reached that office,” he wrote. “But all, when publicly summoned to give witness, chose to honor the legends” of what the office required of a president’s behavior in office.

White’s understanding of what constitutes a “breach of faith” is well worth recalling in considering the presidency of Donald Trump. As White understood it, the term encompassed more than illegal conduct or participation in its cover-up. It was a quality of leadership—or more to the point, the absence of critical qualities—that defined a president’s “betrayal” of his office. What elevated Nixon’s misdeeds to a fatal constitutional flaw, forcing him to surrender his presidency, was the breaking of faith with the American people. Nixon brushed the legal and ethical limits on pursuing his own political and personal welfare. He held grudges and was vindictive; he looked to destroy his enemies rather than simply prevailing over them in hard, clean fights. He lied repeatedly to spare himself the costs of truth-telling.

All of this may be said of Donald Trump, but for a key difference: Nixon was anxious to conceal much of this behavior from public view.

Much has been said and written about Trump’s leadership style: the chronic resort to false claims; the incessant tweeting of taunts and personal attacks on his adversaries; the open undermining of members of his own administration; the abandonment of norms; the refusal to credit, respect or support the impartial administration of justice where his personal or political interests are stake; and the use of office to promote his personal business enterprises. By now, almost two years into his administration, it is clear that this is who he is.

Like Nixon, Trump seems to believe that his behavior is justified by the extraordinary and ruthless opposition of an “establishment”—comprised mainly of the media, the opposition party, and intellectuals—to his election and his politics.

Please go read the rest at Lawfare.

That’s all I have for you today. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Finally! Public Outrage Builds Against TSA Abuse of Power

John Tyner, 31, of Oceanside, CA

Thanks to John Tyner, an ordinary citizen from Oceanside, CA, who just wanted to enjoy a little pheasant hunting in South Dakota last weekend, the media spotlight is now on the TSA and its employees, some of whom are apparently power-mad and abusive to the travelers they are supposed to be protecting.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Tyner by now. He’s the man who refused a naked body scan at San Diego Airport, and then refused to be manhandled by TSA employees using their new security procedure, the “resolution pat-down,”

which requires TSA agents to grasp the body of the subject more firmly when running hands over limbs and also requires probing up to the genital areas of the body.

Tyner had the presence of mind to capture video of his encounter with the TSA, and he later posted the videos on you tube and on his blog, where he also described his experience in detail. Here’s an exerpt:

A male agent…directed me over to the far corner of the area for screening….he turned to me and began to explain that he was going to do a “standard” pat down. (I thought to myself, “great, not one of those gropings like I’ve been reading about”.) After he described, the pat down, I realized that he intended to touch my groin. After he finished his description but before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “if you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” He, a bit taken aback, informed me that he would have to involve his supervisor because of my comment.

We both stood there for no more than probably two minutes before a female TSA agent (apparently, the supervisor) arrived. She described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight. I again stated that I thought the search was illegal. I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped. The supervisor, then offered to go get her supervisor.

The upshot of all this was that Tyner was escorted out of the security area by a police officer and then after more consultations with supervisors, managed to get a refund on his ticket.

At this point, I thought it was all over. I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn’t know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties.

You get the idea. Tyner’s experience was Kafkaesque. The behavior of TSA and Airline employees was reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s descriptions of military red tape in Catch-22. Eventually Tyner did escape the airport without being groped, but the TSA isn’t through with him yet.

The TSA plans to “investigate” Tyner because he left the airport without being authorized by TSA to do so.

The Transportation Security Administration has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, the Oceanside man who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan….

Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office in San Diego, called a news conference at the airport Monday afternoon to announce the probe. He said the investigation could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000.

TSA agents had told Tyner on Saturday that he could be fined up to $10,000.

“That’s the old fine,” Aguilar said. “It has been increased.”

So that’s it, folks. If you want to fly in the U.S. today, you either have to be photographed naked or you have to submit to a humiliating groping process that involves a stranger’s hands coming into contact with your genitals. That’s a Hobson’s choice if I’ve ever heard one. One way or another, you submit to an embarrassing situation in which you are vulnerable to the whims of strangers who may be drunk with power.

Naked body scan image

What’s the risk you take with the naked body scans? They expose you to radiation, and that may be dangerous for young children and elderly people. Many people would find the invasion of privacy and modesty embarrassing and humiliating. And how about the fact that some invisible total stranger may be examining your body and perhaps gawking at your body parts or ridiculing you? These scans show the body in detail and seem to highlight the genital area (see photo). Worst of all, although the government claims the naked images are immediately destroyed, that isn’t so clear.

Gizmodo published multiple stories about this issue today. Here’s a very creepy one you might like to take a look at: The TSA’s Sense of Humor Makes Me Nervous The story includes a photograph of a TSA computer with a highly offensive wallpaper image that apparently reflects TSA “humor” (see below)

The technology site also posted a video of 100 leaked naked body scans.

Wait a minute. Those images aren’t supposed to be saved, are they? Riiiiiight.

At the heart of the controversy over “body scanners” is a promise: The images of our naked bodies will never be public. U.S. Marshals in a Florida Federal courthouse saved 35,000 images on their scanner. These are those images.

A Gizmodo investigation has revealed 100 of the photographs saved by the Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner from Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc., obtained by a FOIA request after it was recently revealed that U.S. Marshals operating the machine in the Orlando, Florida courthouse had improperly-perhaps illegally-saved images of the scans of public servants and private citizens.

We understand that it will be controversial to release these photographs. But identifying features have been eliminated. And fortunately for those who walked through the scanner in Florida last year, this mismanaged machine used the less embarrassing imaging technique.

Yet the leaking of these photographs demonstrates the security limitations of not just this particular machine, but millimeter wave and x-ray backscatter body scanners operated by federal employees in our courthouses and by TSA officers in airports across the country. That we can see these images today almost guarantees that others will be seeing similar images in the future. If you’re lucky, it might even be a picture of you or your family.

Finally Gizmodo asks whether the scanners are being put into airports our safety or for the further enrichment of three giant corporations and their lobbyists. The Gizmodo story refers to this story by Timothy P. Carney:

If you’ve seen one of these scanners at an airport, there’s a good chance it was made by L-3 Communications, a major contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. L-3 employs three different lobbying firms including Park Strategies, where former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., plumps on the company’s behalf. Back in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed D’Amato to the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Also on Park’s L-3 account is former Appropriations staffer Kraig Siracuse.

The scanner contract, issued four days after the Christmas Day bomb attempt last year, is worth $165 million to L-3.

Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. When Defense Daily reported on Price’s appropriations bill last winter, the publication noted “Price likes the budget for its emphasis on filling gaps in aviation security, in particular the whole body imaging systems.”

An early TSA contractor for full-body scanners was the American Science and Engineering company. AS&E’s lobbying team is impressive, including Tom Blank, a former deputy administrator for the TSA. Fellow AS&E lobbyist Chad Wolf was an assistant administrator at TSA and an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sits on the Transportation and Defense subcommittees of Appropriations. Finally, Democratic former Rep. Bud Cramer is also an AS&E lobbyist — he sat on the Defense and Transportation subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? Personally I haven’t flown since before 9/11, and I am determined never to fly again until this outrageous violation of our privacy and civil liberties ends.