Thunderous Thursday Reads: Bolton From The Blue

Good Morning!!

John Bolton’s book is scheduled for release next Tuesday, but you don’t have to buy it. The best parts are already being published everywhere, despite Trump’s and Barr’s efforts to stop publication.

Bolton was interviewed by ABC’s Martha Raddatz, and the interview will be shown on Sunday in an hour-long special beginning at 9PM. ABC News: Bolton: Trump’s not ‘fit for office,’ doesn’t have ‘competence to carry out the job’

President Donald Trump is not “fit for office” and doesn’t have “the competence to carry out the job,” his former national security adviser John Bolton told ABC News in an exclusive interview.

In an explosive new book about his 17 months at the White House, Bolton characterizes Trump as “stunningly uninformed,” ignorant of basic facts and easily manipulated by foreign adversaries.

But his assessment that Trump is not “fit” to be president is among the most stunning indictments of a sitting president by one of their own top advisers in American history.

“There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s reelection,” Bolton told ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.

“He was so focused on the reelection that longer-term considerations fell by the wayside,” he added.

The New York Times: Bolton Says Trump Impeachment Inquiry Missed Other Troubling Episodes.

John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, says in his new book that the House in its impeachment inquiry should have investigated President Trump not just for pressuring Ukraine but for a variety of instances when he sought to use trade negotiations and criminal investigations to further his political interests.

Mr. Bolton describes several episodes where the president expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations “to, in effect, give personal favors to dictators he liked,” citing cases involving major firms in China and Turkey. “The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Mr. Bolton writes, saying that he reported his concerns to Attorney General William P. Barr.

Mr. Bolton also adds a striking new accusation by describing how Mr. Trump overtly linked tariff talks with China to his own political fortunes by asking President Xi Jinping to buy American agricultural products to help him win farm states in this year’s election. Mr. Trump, he writes, was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win.” Mr. Bolton said that Mr. Trump “stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”

A bit more:

Mr. Bolton’s volume is the first tell-all memoir by such a high-ranking official who participated in major foreign policy events and has a lifetime of conservative credentials. It is a withering portrait of a president ignorant of even basic facts about the world, susceptible to transparent flattery by authoritarian leaders manipulating him and prone to false statements, foul-mouthed eruptions and snap decisions that aides try to manage or reverse.

Mr. Trump did not seem to know, for example, that Britain was a nuclear power and asked if Finland was a part of Russia, Mr. Bolton writes. The president never tired of assailing allied leaders and came closer to withdrawing the United States from NATO than previously known. He said it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela.

At times, Mr. Trump seemed to almost mimic the authoritarian leaders he appeared to admire. “These people should be executed,” Mr. Trump once said of journalists. “They are scumbags.” When Mr. Xi explained why he was building concentration camps in China, the book says, Mr. Trump “said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do.” He repeatedly badgered Mr. Barr to prosecute former Secretary of State John F. Kerry for talking with Iran in what he insisted was a violation of the Logan Act.

There’s plenty more at the NYT link.

The Guardian: Trump was willing to halt criminal investigations as ‘favor’ to dictators, Bolton book says.

Donald Trump was willing to halt criminal investigations to “give personal favors to dictators he liked”, according to a new book written by his former national security adviser John Bolton….

Bolton alleges that Trump pleaded with China’s President Xi Jinping to help him get re-elected by buying more US agricultural products, according to accounts of his forthcoming memoir.

In his pursuit of a good personal relationship with Xi, Trump is described as brushing aside human rights issues, even providing encouragement to the communist leader to continue to build concentration camps for China’s Muslim Uighur population….

According to excerpts published by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Washington Post, Bolton describes a pattern of corruption in which Trump routinely attempts to use the leverage of US power on other countries to his own personal ends.

“The pattern looked like obstruction of justice as a way of life, which we couldn’t accept,” Bolton writes, adding that he took his concerns to the attorney general, William Barr.

Axios: Bolton’s Revenge.

Highlights from a copy obtained by the N.Y. Times’ Peter Baker:

Impeachment: Bolton says Democrats failed by focusing the probe on Ukraine rather than on other cases involving China and Turkey.

Gossip: Bolton alleges Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped him a note calling Trump “full of shit” during a 2018 meeting with Kim Jong-un.

Trump gaffes: Bolton alleges Trump didn’t know the U.K. was a nuclear power and claims Trump asked if Finland was part of Russia.

Journalists: Bolton alleges Trump privately told him reporters deserve prison. “These people should be executed. They are scumbags.”

Bolton’s own words, via an excerpt published in the WSJ:

“Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”

“I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.”

“At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang.

According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”

“One of Trump’s favorite comparisons was to point to the tip of one of his Sharpies and say, ‘This is Taiwan,’ then point to the historic Resolute desk in the Oval Office and say, ‘This is China.’”

CNN has a list of stunning revelations from the book, including this one:

Trump wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to make CNN reporters ‘serve time in jail.’

When news leaked about a hush-hush meeting on Afghanistan at Trump’s Bedminster resort, Trump complained that CNN had reported the summit was taking place, Bolton writes. The President told White House counsel Pat Cipollone to call Attorney General Bill Barr about his desire to “arrest the reporters, force them to serve time in jail, and then demand they disclose their sources.”

More highlights from the book:

The Guardian: John Bolton’s bombshell Trump book: eight of its most stunning claims.

The New York Times: Five Takeaways From John Bolton’s Memoir.

Book Reviews

Jennifer Szalai at The New York Times: In ‘The Room Where It Happened,’ John Bolton Dumps His Notes and Smites His Enemies.

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: John Bolton’s book is full of startling revelations he should have told us sooner.

More Reactions

A powerful commentary by Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast: John Bolton Shows That All the President’s Men Are Cowards.

The book is 592 pages, and it’s already #1 on Amazon even before it’s out next week. Trump sued to block publication, with Bill Barr inevitably doing his hopeless dirty work there. He will lose. The book will be published. And the news is already here.

Americans will read or at least hear about how Trump has given the law the finger virtually every day of his presidency, didn’t know that England is a nuclear power, thought invading Venezuela would be “cool” and that Finland was part of Russia. And that Trump was, in Mike Pompeo’s eyes, “so full of shit.” And it’s great that we’re learning this now, five months before the American people render their verdict on this fraud.

On the other hand… why are we just learning this now?

Because John Bolton didn’t have the guts to stand up and say these things when it might have mattered more. Or maybe it was less a matter of guts than cash. His agent and publisher surely leaned on him to save it for the book, and well, it’s #1, so in that sense they were right, but what is that sense, exactly?

It’s the sense in which, in a contest between market and polity, the race isn’t even close. The market will win that race every time in today’s America. The president of the United States has been destroying this country, eroding its decent values every single day of his presidency, until matters have finally reached the point that, through his malevolence and stupidity and lack of empathy, he is actually and literally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

Bolton had a chance to speak up before all those people died from Trump’s selfish incompetence. Of course he couldn’t have known that was coming. But with Trump, something bad was coming. It was inevitable. Maybe with a different roll of the dice, war with Iran. The man is a lunatic, completely in over his head in this job, mentally unstable, and an instrument of national grief just waiting to happen every day. It’s been obvious to everyone for years.

Bill Kristol at The Bulwark: John Bolton Tells the Truth.

I’m not particularly surprised by John Bolton’s revelations. (I should make clear that neither of the individuals described above was Bolton.)

But whether or not one is surprised by what Bolton reports, no one should really doubt the truth of it. I have no doubt that Bolton is telling the truth. Not simply because of my two, as it were, generally corroborating sources. But because I’ve known John Bolton a long time, and John Bolton is an honest man. He tells the truth.

Full stop.

John Bolton is neither a liar nor a fantasist. John Bolton may not be the epitome of warmth, humor, or even kindness. But he is honest.

Nor is he the type to get confused. He is a meticulous note-taker. When we read Bolton’s book, we will almost certainly be reading the nearest thing to the truth about the Trump administration that we’re likely to get before historians have a chance to get inside the administration’s archives.

Here is what is relevant for Republican elites going forward: They have known John Bolton for a long time, too. Almost every Republican elected official, every influential Washington conservative, and many Republican donors know John Bolton. And they, too, know he’s honest.

So what do they have to say about a president who blesses Chinese concentration camps, pleads for re-election help from an enemy dictator, and routinely subordinates the national interest to personal and political considerations?

How can they continue to support this president?

I’m sure they will find ways. But those who continue to support Trump need to accept that they’re supporting a man who has done what Bolton says Trump has done. And those who support a Trump second term need to accept that they are supporting four more years in office for a president who has done what Bolton says Trump has done.

And those who continue to keep silent are keeping silent from us, their fellow citizens, their judgment of a president who has done what Bolton says Trump has done.

Enough. Bolton has spoken. Surely there are others who will now dare to disturb the sound of silence.

We’ll have to wait and see if Bolton’s revelations will hurt Trump in the run-up to the election. What do you think? What other stories are on your radar today?


Tuesday Reads: Last Words on Kobe Bryant

Good Morning!!

Two days after the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, there has been almost no attention paid to the other 7 people who died in the tragic accident. Read about them at Buzzfeed News: Teenage Girls And Beloved Coaches Were Among The 9 Victims Of The Helicopter Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant.

John Altobelli, a 56-year-old head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife, Keri, and youngest daughter, Alyssa, 13, were among those who died.

Alyssa and Gianna were teammates at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. The team was set to play against a Fresno youth team on Sunday afternoon, the Fresno Bee reported.

John Altobelli had been a coach and mentor at Orange Coast College (OCC) for 27 years, helping many student-athletes earn scholarships so they could play at the four-year level, the college said in a statement.

“Coach Alto,” the college said, helped lead the Pirates to more than 700 wins and four state championships. He was named the National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association in 2019.

Altobelli family

The Altobelli’s are survived by two other children, a son JJ and daughter Lexi, now orphans.

Christina Mauser, 38, was the assistant coach for the Mamba Academy basketball team.

“My kids and I are devastated,” her husband, Matt Mauser, wrote in a Facebook post. “We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”

The couple has three children, ages 11, 9, and 3….

Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter, Payton, also died in the crash. Payton was a basketball player, NBC News reported.

Todd Schmidt, the former principal at Harbor View Elementary School, wrote a heartfelt tribute to Payton, his former student, and her mother, calling them “two gorgeous human beings.”

“While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important…their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken,” Schmidt wrote in a Facebook post.

Christina Mauser

Chester leaves behind a husband Chris and two 16-year-old sons Hayden and Riley.

Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter, was a beloved figure in the aviation community. He was “instrument-rated” which meant he was able to fly in fog and clouds, KTLA reporter Christina Pascucci said.

Zobayan was Bryant’s private pilot, according to one of his flight students, Darren Kemp.

So many people–including young children–are devastated by these deaths, but all the attention has gone to the former basketball player. I still can’t get past my anger at the lionizing of Bryant, who was credibly accused of rape and never publicly dealt with the damage he did to the life of a 19-year-old woman. Ever since I saw the way the basketball stars were treated as if they could do no wrong in my high school, I’ve resented the way athletes are allowed to get away with almost anything, especially violence against women.

Sarah and Payton Chester

Somewhere the woman that Bryant raped is watching the coverage of his death and most likely reliving the trauma she experienced as she sees so much praise heaped upon her abuser.

On Sunday, Jill Filipovic wrote that Bryant has a “complicated legacy.” No, it’s not really complicated. He was a huge basketball star with a giant ego and he got away with rape. He’s certainly not alone in that. Gavin Polone at the Hollywood Reporter:

I guess our society thinks that certain transgressions by celebrities can be forgiven. What’s perplexing is the con­trast between which wrongs are and aren’t forgivable. Based on what I’ve read, I believe Kobe most probably raped a woman and still was paid $26 million in 2015 by Nike, Hublot, Panini Authentic, Turkish Airlines and others to endorse their products; Ben Roethlisberger was accused of raping two women and still made more than $35 million for one year as an NFL quarterback; Greg Hardy certainly beat the shit out of his ex-girlfriend and was signed to play defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys; Jameis Winston was sued for the rape of a student at FSU and didn’t even break stride to the NFL (having watched the victim’s recounting of events, I believe her). Both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were accused of sexual misconduct, yet the former still is performing and the latter practically has been deified.

But what isn’t forgiven? Killing someone? Nope, Ray Lewis was accused of that, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and now is an NFL analyst for ESPN. Donte Stallworth killed a pedestrian while driving drunk and played the next year. So violence, especially against women, can be excused.

Ara Zobayan

Here’s a piece at Vice by Albert Berneko that counters Filipovic’s “complicated legacy” notion: Kobe Bryant Was No More Complicated Than Anyone Else.

Maybe the actual very last thing the world needs or ever will need, ever again, is for one more man’s power or fame or brilliance or death to be used as a reason to throw the word “complicated” over his abuses like an obscuring blanket. It’s a dishonest sidestep, anyway. Everyone is complicated. You can be a tortured mass of endless complications and still never sexually assault anyone.

What the fact of having committed, or having credibly been accused of committing, sexual assault complicates for an acclaimed celebrity is the feelings—or maybe, at most, the immediate social situation—of those who’d like to go right on celebrating him. Ironically, or maybe not ironically, nothing smooths this complication more easily than the word “complicated”: Be sure to include it in your hosannas. It is a way to skip past the discomfort and ambiguity of actually grappling with the acclaimed celebrity’s monstrousness straight to the part where you congratulate yourself for having done so. I have integrated the fullness of this imperfect person; when I now return to praising him, be sure that it is with the appropriate level of personal internal conflicted feeling.

It seems reasonable to guess that former Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant was a complicated person, because he was a person and not the Archangel Gabriel. More relevant to a summation of his life, he was also a great and spectacular basketball player, one of the biggest stars in the history of the sport, and a powerful man who, in 2003 and at the height of his celebrity, was credibly accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee and then avoided a trial by leaking his accuser’s identity and shaming her into silence. I don’t think these things complicate each other, unless you happen to believe there’s a personal moral component to being good at making contested jump-shots.

Marty Baron

To top off the protect-Kobe hysteria, Marty Baron, editor of the Washington Post–who was editor of the Boston Globe when the Spotlight team exposed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church–publicly shamed one of his reporters, Felicia Sonmez who is a survivor of sexual assault.

Vanity Fair:  “There’s Incredible Outrage”: Washington Post Newsroom Revolts after Reporter Suspended for Kobe Bryant Tweets.

As the collective grief crested on Twitter following TMZ’s shocking scoop that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez had a different idea. She shared a 2016 Daily Beast story detailing a rape allegation made against the NBA legend more than a decade earlier. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she tweeted Sunday, “even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling.”

Vitriol and threats streamed into Sonmez’s inbox, which she relayed on Twitter, along with screenshots of the attacks. The Bryant-related tweets have since been deleted. By Sunday afternoon, Somnez had been suspended—placed on “administrative leave”—a move that’s prompted anger and confusion inside the Post newsroom. “There’s incredible outrage. The outrage is like nothing I’ve ever seen here,” one Post source told us. “People just feel like it was way over the top.”

The Daily Beast article was an exhaustive chronicle of the allegations against Bryant and his response to them. While far from flattering to Bryant, it described an inescapable part of his history, and, fraught as social media can be in the current world of journalism, it was difficult for many to see how posting it was out of bounds. Post staffers were looking for clarity Monday after managing editor Tracy Grant said in a statement that Sonmez violated the newsroom’s social media policy and “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

Felicia Sonmez

I hope you’ll go read the rest. Sonmez spent the night in a hotel after her address was posted on-line by outraged Kobe fans. I’d also suggest reading this piece in the Post by Eric Wemple: The Post’s misguided suspension of Felicia Sonmez over Kobe Bryant tweets.

I’ll be quiet about this now, but I just had to get it off my chest. I can acknowledge that millions of people are sad about the death of their idol. I just think there should be some recognition that the way we treat (male) athletes in our culture means that the people who dare to say no to their desires are publicly shamed and punished.

Some other news stories to check out today:

On the Bolton revelations:

NYT: Bolton Was Concerned That Trump Did Favors for Autocratic Leaders, Book Says.

WaPo: Bolton book roils Washington as onetime allies turn on Trump’s former national security adviser.

Barbara McQuade at WaPo: Trump waived executive privilege when he called Bolton a liar.

Daily Beast: Top Ukraine Official: I Trusted Bolton More Than Anyone.

Other impeachment news and comment:

Axios: Republicans brace for domino effect on witnesses.

Impeachment expert Frank Bowman at The Atlantic: Trump’s Defense Against Subpoenas Makes No Legal Sense.

WaPo: Trump’s impeachment defense: Who is paying the president’s lawyers?

Jamelle Bouie at NYT: Mitch McConnell’s Complicity Has Deep Roots.

Vetting Bernie Sanders (finally)

NYT: Bernie Sanders and His Internet Army.

David Frum at the Atlantic: Bernie Can’t Win.

Richard North Patterson at the Bulwark: This Is How Trump Would Destroy Bernie Sanders.

Jonathan Chait at NY Mag: Running Bernie Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity.

Other campaign news:

NYT: How Some People of Color Feel Inside the Buttigieg Campaign.

Politico: Why Biden scaled back in New Hampshire.

What stories are you following today?

 


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Another Crazy Day in Trump World

Good Morning!!

Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.

A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.

The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.

Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]

Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….

“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]

In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.

“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”

This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.

The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.

The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.

Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

USS Battleship John McCain

Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.

A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.

[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.

On the other hand, sailors wearing MAGA patches in support of Trump were allowed to attend the speech.

CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.

The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.

“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]

Close-up of the MAGA patch

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.

However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.

The Miami Herald: Federal prosecutors demand Cindy Yang records from Mar-a-Lago, Trump campaign.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cindy Yang with Donald Trump

Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.

The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.

Click the link to read the rest.

As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.

USA Today: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war.

March 20, 2003 – War With Iraq – Shock & Awe . . . And Then Invasion.

The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.

Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.

The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?

Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.

The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.

But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.

On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.

And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.

Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?

Please read the whole thing.

So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?