It’s day 29 of the illegimate presidency of Donald tRump and the chaos continues unabated. There are hundreds of stories I could share with you today, and it’s difficult to figure out which is most worthy of attention. I believe that Russian influence on our government has to be number one, but there are many other urgent issues as well. We can’t ignore the truly frightening story of what tRump is trying to do to undocumented immigrants. Of course there really are many more serious concerns, such as tRump’s refusal to accept advice from experts and his war on the free press. So here are a few stories to check out and I hope you’ll add more in the comments.
First, here’s a follow-up to what Dakinikat wrote yesterday about the increasingly public concerns about tRump’s mental health from Dr. Steven Beutler at The New Republic: A Medical Theory for Donald Trump’s Bizarre Behavior. In response to the many questions asked by political leaders, psychologists, and psychiatrists, he writes:
Physicians like me have also taken notice of Trump’s , . Given our experience, we can’t help but wonder if there’s a medical diagnosis to be made. After all, many medical conditions exhibit their first symptoms in the form of psychiatric issues and personality changes. One condition in particular is notable for doing so: Neurosyphilis.
Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, is sometimes referred to as “The Great Imposter” because of its ability to mimic many other conditions. It is commonly broken down into three stages. Primary syphilis is the most widely recognized form of the disease. It is characterized by the development of an ulcer, usually genital, a few weeks to a few months after sexual contact with an infected person. If the ulcer is not noticed, or not treated, it heals on its own, and the disease enters a dormant phase. But during this time, the bacteria—a spirochete called —spreads throughout the body without causing any symptoms.
A secondary stage of the disease is seen in some patients weeks or months later. These patients may develop a variety of systemic symptoms, such as rash, fever, and swollen glands. If not treated, the infection enters a prolonged latent phase, which can last decades. During this time, it is asymptomatic and it is not contagious. In some cases, this is followed by a tertiary stage, which is the most serious and may involve any organ in the body. It is seen 10 to 30 years after the initial infection, and is best known for causing neurologic and neuropsychiatric disease: Neurosyphilis.
The symptoms of neurosyphilis are protean, varying widely from one individual to another. Commonly recognized symptoms include irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, delusional thinking, and grandiosity. Memory, insight, and judgment can become impaired. Insomnia may occur. Visual problems may develop, including the inability of pupils to react to the light. This, along other ocular pathology, can result in photophobia, dimming of vision, and squinting. All of these things have been observed in Trump. Dementia, headaches, and patchy hair loss can also be seen in later stages of syphilis.
Beutler of course admits that he cannot make a diagnosis without more information and access to tRump, but he argues that Neurosyphilis needs to be considered as a possibility along with psychological disorders because of tRump’s own public admissions about his sexual history.
Supposedly tRump is going to be interviewing candidates for the National Security Adviser position vacated by Michael Flynn. He has already been turned down by his top two candidates, Adm. Robert Harward and Gen. David Petraeus.
Last night Chris Hayes broke some news about the Harward turndown on his MSNBC show. Business Insider reports: Top national security adviser pick reportedly bailed after seeing Trump’s press conference.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes on Friday cited a former national security official familiar with Harward’s decision who said Harward asked that several demands be met as a condition of accepting the offer:
- A clear chain of command, reporting directly to the president.
- Restoring the [National Security Council] structure of prior administrations … so that political advisers like Steve Bannon would not have a seat on the Principals’ Committee.
“Harward wanted to undo the fairly large changes the president had made to the NSC that had inserted Bannon into the process,” Hayes reported.
Citing his source, Hayes said “The White House did not offer Harward sufficient assurances that he would have such autonomy.” Harward wrote a letter declining the offer.
The White House reportedly sought to negotiate with Harward on the matter, which Harward was initially open to, Hayes said, but that changed a short time later.
Sources close to retired Gen. David Petraeus say the White House eliminated the former CIA director from consideration for the open national security adviser post after he weighed in on the job during a conference in Germany this week.
“Whoever it is that would agree to take that position certainly should do so with some very, very significant assurances that he or she would have authorities over the personnel of the organization — that there would be a commitment to a disciplined process and procedures,” Petraeus said at the Munich Security Conference.
That pronouncement angered the White House as it deepened the sense the next national security adviser must assert authority over staff and the inter-agency process — highlighting the reason Vice Adm. Robert Harward refused to take the job earlier this week. Two sources confirmed to CBS News that Harward had demanded his own team, and the White House resisted.
Sources close to the situation said the White House is content for the time being with acting National Security Adviser Keith Kellogg and does not have a coherent replacement plan in place. Kellogg, a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, had been serving as chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council when he took over as the national security adviser.
Apparently, tRump is determined to control the makeup of the NSC, including keeping Steve Bannon on the principals committee. It’s hard to imagine any experienced candidate who would accept that.
As President Donald Trump prepares to interview more candidates this weekend, accepting the influential policy-making post that oversees a policy staff of hundreds is now widely considered a high-risk gambit, according to current and former government officials and longtime veterans of the National Security Council.
Trump will be forced to “sweeten the deal,” predicted one former Republican NSC official, in order to enlist a high-caliber replacement following the resignation of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn….
“I would want to know that I had direct, unimpeded access to the president whenever I felt it was necessary,” said Nicholas Rostow, who served as the top legal adviser to both Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft when they held the post under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, respectively.
“Historically that job has been one step removed from domestic politics, and the national security adviser and his or her staff have always prided themselves on looking at things through the prism of the national interest — and therefore slightly less political than other positions,” added Rostow, who now teaches political science at Colgate University.
A former high-ranking national security official in the George W. Bush administration, citing the perils of navigating Trump’s dueling power centers, was far more blunt about the challenges awaiting Trump’s would-be national security adviser: “No serious person would take that job. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
If you’re interested in the Russia connection, I hope you had a chance to watch Joy Reid’s show this morning. She had a great segment on Russia’s reaction to the firing their obvious ally Michael Flynn. Here’s a piece Reid wrote about the situation at The Daily Beast: It’s Not Too Early to Ask: Are Even the Russians Turning on Trump?
Trump’s utility to the Russians has never been in his wackiness. It’s been in the potential for him to deliver, as President, a different U.S. foreign policy; one that deemphasizes the traditional Western alliances and frees Russia to operate in the European theater as it pleases, with lifted sanctions and a few lucrative bilateral oil deals to boot.
But Trump as President hasn’t shown any inkling of the kind of competence or political skill—or the political capital—to do any of that. Even his Secretary of State, Exxon’s Rex Tillerson, has sounded a dubious note about the extent to which the United States will allow Moscow to flex its muscle around the world, which had to be a great disappointment to his good friend, “V. Putin,” as Trump labels him in tweets, using the common Russian nomenclature….
Russian leaders seemed palpably freaked out when Gen. Michael Flynn, clearly seen as Moscow’s main man in Washington, was forced out of the Trump administration amid revelations that he conducted secret foreign policy on the phone with the Russian ambassador over Christmas, then lied to the vice president about it. It’s pretty difficult to imagine that Flynn acted without the direction, or at least the approval, of his boss, the then-incoming president.
But more alarming than the phone calls was the fact that Flynn was considered potentially compromised by a foreign power, by the Director of National Intelligence, the acting attorney general of the United States, Sally Yates, and others, and that the White House was told as much and still waited to act. Now, the Kremlin has reportedly ordered Russian media outlets to dial back their glowing Trump coverage, amid uncertainty about what comes next.
Read the whole thing at the link.
More links to explore:
The New York Times: Trump Calls the News Media the ‘Enemy of the American People.’
The New York Times: Sun, Sand and Influence: For Mar-a-Lago Members, Proximity Is Power.
The New Yorker: Michael Flynn: General Chaos.
The New York Times: The Downfall of Kellyanne Conway.
The Washington Post: John McCain just systematically dismantled Donald Trump’s entire worldview.
Note: The images in this post are by women abstract expressionist painters.
Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!!
Chaos has become our day-to-day reality. Every morning I wake up to more insanity in the news. Yesterday it was tRump conducting national security discussions in the middle of a public dining room using an unsecured cell phone (See Dakinikat’s Monday post). Now the pace of crazy has sped up even more–last night a 11PM I got a call from Dakinikat telling me Michael Flynn had resigned (I was watching MSNBC and they didn’t have it yet). Of course I had to stay up late and watch all the talking heads spewing nonsense about it, and now it’s Tuesday morning and I’m exhausted. Will we ever return to normal?
I don’t care for Bill Maher, but he said something on his Friday night show that I totally agree with.
They say a week is a long time in politics. But for Bill Maher, the Trump administration “happens in dog years.”
“As always with Donald Trump, there’s just too much news to get to,” said the “Real Time” host on Friday’s broadcast of the show. “There’s so much fucking crazy, it’s like three weeks of Trump is like five years of Nixon.”
You can watch it at the HuffPo link above.
That is so true. It does feel like Watergate on steroids–but it’s happening so much faster, it’s hard to keep up. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker at The Washington Post: Upheaval is now standard operating procedure inside the White House.
With President Trump in his fourth full week in office, the upheaval inside the administration that West Wing officials had optimistically dismissed as growing pains is now embedding itself as standard operating procedure.
Trump — distracted by political brushfires, often of his own making — has failed to fill such key posts as White House communications director, while sub-Cabinet positions across agencies and scores of ambassadorships around the globe still sit empty.
Upset about damaging leaks of his calls with world leaders and other national security information, Trump has ordered an internal investigation to find the leakers. Staffers, meanwhile, are so fearful of being accused of talking to the media that some have resorted to a secret chat app — Confide — that erases messages as soon as they’re read.
The chaos and competing factions that were a Trump trademark in business and campaigning now are starting to define his presidency, according to interviews with a dozen White House officials as well as other Republicans. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal White House dynamics and deliberations.
Some senior officials are worried about their own standing with the president, who through his casual conversations with friends and associates sometimes seems to hint that a shake-up could come at a moment’s notice.
Much more at the link.
Of course the Flynn resignation is only the beginning. Some in the media are arguing that Trump didn’t know about Flynn’s suggestions to the Russian ambassador that the tRump administration would weaken or remove the Obama administration sanctions. Come on. Trump undoubtedly order Flynn to make the calls. Here’s what Josh Marshall wrote late last night: The Wind is Sown.
As the Russia story submerged out of view in the first days of February, the Acting Attorney General had already warned the White House about Michael Flynn’s deceptions and susceptibility to blackmail. She was fired for refusing to enforce the immigration executive order days later. Though the White House now denies it, it seems that the President and his top advisors took no action in response to these warnings….
It appears that repeated efforts were made to apprise President Trump or those around him of the situation with Michael Flynn. When those warnings were ignored, people in the national security and law enforcement apparatus went instead to the press to get the word out that way….
This is not some ill-considered discussion by Michael Flynn. The role of Russia in the 2016 election and the President’s relationship to Russia has been the un-ignorable question hanging over President Trump for months. Flynn’s resignation does not come close to resolving it. It is highly likely that the Flynn/Russia channel was authorized by the President himself. There’s much more to come.
We need to brace ourselves. This is going to get really ugly.
Yes, the DOJ warned tRump about Flynn weeks ago. The Washington Post reports: Justice Department warned White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, officials say.
The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.
The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, James R. Clapper Jr., who was the director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, shared Yates’s concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House. They feared that “Flynn had put himself in a compromising position” and thought that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled, according to one of the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
A senior Trump administration official said before Flynn’s resignation that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that “we’ve been working on this for weeks.”
And check this out:
Yates, Clapper and Brennan argued for briefing the incoming administration so the new president could decide how to deal with the matter. The officials discussed options, including telling Pence, the incoming White House counsel, the incoming chief of staff or Trump himself.
FBI Director James B. Comey initially opposed notification, citing concerns that it could complicate the agency’s investigation.
Comey again! I think it’s time to start asking seriously whether Comey has also been compromised. Be sure to read the entire story if you haven’t already.
Politico has more White House leaks: Why Donald Trump let Michael Flynn go. Inside Donald Trump’s national security adviser’s final days in the White House.
Pence was unhappy with Flynn for not telling him the truth and told the president about his displeasure, a White House official said, but said he would accept whatever decision the president made.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who is close with Steve Bannon, his strategist, was aware of the uncertainty about Flynn’s future and the concerns in Trump’s orbit but tried to telegraph on TV that the adviser wasn’t in trouble hoping the storm could pass, one person familiar with her thinking said.
“General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president,” Conway said.
Her appearance created waves in Trump’s orbit, and Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, who has expressed displeasure about Conway to associates, immediately put out a statement that seemed to contradict her.
“The president is evaluating the situation,” Spicer said soon after Conway’s remarks.
One person who frequently speaks to Trump said the president was reluctant to ditch Flynn because he doesn’t “like to fire people who are loyal.” Even Monday evening, Trump was still pondering the decision, the person said.
“He has this reputation of being a ‘you’re fired’ kind of guy, but he really didn’t want to have that conversation,” the person said.
Whatever. I don’t believe for one minute that tRump didn’t know exactly what Flynn was up to. And how is Russia reacting to the loss of Flynn–their good friend in the White House?
The Washington Post reports: Russian lawmakers rush to the defense of Trump’s ex-national security adviser.
MOSCOW — Leading Russian lawmakers rushed to defend President Trump’s former national security adviser on Tuesday after he resigned for misleading senior White House officials, including Vice President Pence, about his contacts with Russia.
The heads of the foreign affairs committees in both Russia’s upper and lower houses of parliament chalked up Michael Flynn’s resignation to a dark campaign of Russophobia in Washington, and said it would undermine relations between the White House and the Kremlin.
Konstantin Kosachev of the upper house wrote in a post on Faceboo
k that readiness for dialogue with Moscow was now seen in Washington as a “thoughtcrime,” a reference to the George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
“To force the resignation of the national security adviser for contacts with the Russian ambassador (normal diplomatic practice) is not even paranoia, but something immeasurably worse,” he wrote. “Either Trump has failed to gain his desired independence and is being cornered consistently (and not without success), or Russophobia has infected even the new administration, from top to bottom.”
Here’s one more “bombshell” for you from Raw Story: Michael Flynn may have used encryption to hide Russia talks from US.
Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Schiff explained that the Trump administration was not labeling allegations against Flynn as “fake news” because U.S. intelligence agencies may have audio recordings of him speaking to Russian officials while President Barack Obama was still in office.
“They know that if there is a transcript, if there are recordings, that can’t be dismissed,” Schiff said. “The fact that they would mislead the country about this is inexplicable.”
“What I think is interesting here, there are allegations — again, as yet unproven — that they may have also used encrypted communications,” he added. “Since Flynn was talking with the Russians, if he was using encrypted communications, it wasn’t to conceal it from the Russians. Then you have to ask, who were they concealing conversations from?”
According to Schiff, the allegations suggest that Flynn engaged in encrypted communications in addition to the un-encrypted discussions that were reportedly recorded by U.S. intelligence agencies.
“This is something that I think we need to determine as part of an investigation,” he said. “But if there were then the question is, why were those being used? Who were those conversations to be concealed from, why was it necessary to go to that if you were simply talking about Christmas greetings as Sean Spicer apparently misrepresented to the country?”
Wow. Who will be next to go? I imagine Mike Pence is happily waiting around until he gets to be POTUS.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the breaking news coming out of tRumpland. What are you hearing. What do you think. Let us know in the comment thread below.
This post is illustrated with cute pics of cats and dogs, because I’m dealing with a very bad cold this morning; I’d like to just crawl back under the covers and zone out. On top of that, my patience with our rude and crude new “president” is quickly running out. This clueless man is destroying our reputation as a nation, alienating our oldest and closest allies around the world, and antagonizing our most dangerous opponents–except, of course, for Russia.
Yesterday tRump had nothing to say about Russia attacking Ukraine, but he had no problem with threatening to send U.S. troops into Mexico; sending Michael Flynn out to put Iran “on notice,” whatever that means; and “blasting” and insulting the prime minister of Australia, one of our closest and most loyal allies.
I guess there’s now some disagreement on the Mexico threat. Here’s what the Associated Press reported yesterday: Trump to Mexico: Take care of ‘bad hombres’ or US might.
The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.
The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.
Mexico’s foreign relations department said the report was “based on absolute falsehoods.”
Americans may recognize Trump’s signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.
It certainly does sound like tRump, though, doesn’t it? Maybe the Mexico government is going to give us the benefit of the doubt for awhile, but I doubt if this will help public opinion south of the border.
During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Michael Flynn issued a vague threat to Iran. CNN: White House national security adviser: Iran is ‘on notice.’
President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn condemned Wednesday Iran’s recent ballistic missile test launch, calling it a “provocative” breach of a UN Security Council resolution.
Flynn called the launch the latest in a series of provocative moves by Iran that have included backing Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have attacked US allies.“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn said from the White House briefing room.Flynn did not say whether the US would take action beyond a verbal warning, and three senior administration officials, speaking on background, said Wednesday that they are still in the early stages of determining what action the US should take in response.“We are considering a whole range of options. We’re in a deliberative process,” one of the officials said.
Iran may also be giving us the benefit of the doubt for now. NBC News reports: Iran Brushes Off Trump’s ‘Empty Threats’ Over Missile Tests.
A top aide to Iran’s supreme leader blamed the “inexperienced” Trump administration for apparent U.S. threats and vowed his country would continue testing ballistic missiles.
Ali Akbar Velayati, who advises Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on foreign affairs, said that Iran had not breached a nuclear deal reached with six major powers in 2015 or a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the accord. The White House has accused Tehran of acting “in defiance” of a separate U.N. Security Council resolution on ballistic missiles, as opposed to the nuclear agreement.
“This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran,” Velayati said. “Iran is the strongest power in the region and has a lot of political, economic and military power … America should be careful about making empty threats to Iran.”
He added: “Iran will continue to test its capabilities in ballistic missiles and Iran will not ask any country for permission in defending itself.”
The Washington Post reports on the call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: No ‘G’day, mate’: On call with Australian prime minister, Trump badgers and brags.
It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.
Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.
At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”
Trump was upset about an agreement between the Obama administration and Turnbull to swap some refugees being held in the two countries.
“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.
Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”
Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”
U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia — countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Australia has supported the U.S. in wars dating back to Vietnam and is one of the five trusted nations with whom we share intelligence. Why the hell can’t tRump stop his pathological bragging about winning the election? His behavior is an embarrassment to our country.
Bloomberg Politics’ David Tweet addresses tRump’s disgraceful Twitter obsession: Trump Twitter Bursts Throw Decades-Old Alliances Into Disarray.
For the first time in decades, America’s oldest allies are questioning where Washington’s heart is.
This week, President Donald Trump and his deputies hit out at some of America’s closest friends, blasting a “dumb” refugee resettlement deal with Australia and accusing Japan and Germany of manipulating their currencies. Ties with Mexico have deteriorated to the point its government had to deny reports that Trump told President Enrique Pena Nieto he might send U.S. troops across the southern border.
The dilemma for officials globally is figuring out if Trump’s blunt style is simply a tactic to keep them off balance or the start of a move to tear up the rule book that has guided relations with the U.S. since World War II. In the mean time, allies have little choice but to prepare for the worst.
The latest attacks came against Australia and Japan, even with Trump’s new Pentagon chief in the region to offer assurances about the U.S.’s commitment to security ties.
“For those of us like Australia, Japan or Korea, who have been dependent on that continuity, we have got to start thinking about a situation where the U.S. is much more self interested, and more more capricious on what it might do,” said Nick Bisley, a professor of international relations at La Trobe University in Melbourne. “Countries in the region have got to sit down and say those old arrangements can’t last forever.”
tRump’s behavior is disgusting and dangerous.
Meanwhile, federal employees are struggling to deal with tRump and are pushing back in unprecedented ways.
The Washington Post: Resistance from within: Federal workers push back against Trump.
Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.
And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”
At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forum to discuss their opposition to the Trump administration. And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.
At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said the office has been planning to slow its work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if asked to shift grants away from their mission.
“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”
The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs.
And check out this quote from the article:
Asked whether federal workers are dissenting in ways that go beyond previous party changes in the White House, Tom Malinowski, who was President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said, sarcastically: “Is it unusual? . . . There’s nothing unusual about the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States feeling like their commander in chief is a threat to U.S. national security. That happens all the time. It’s totally usual. Nothing to worry about.”
According to Politico, some federal employees have begun using encryption to “thwart Trump.”
Federal employees worried that President Donald Trump will gut their agencies are creating new email addresses, signing up for encrypted messaging apps and looking for other, protected ways to push back against the new administration’s agenda.
Whether inside the Environmental Protection Agency, within the Foreign Service, on the edges of the Labor Department or beyond, employees are using new technology as well as more old-fashioned approaches — such as private face-to-face meetings — to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent.
The goal is to get their message across while not violating any rules covering workplace communications, which can be monitored by the government and could potentially get them fired.
At the EPA, a small group of career employees — numbering less than a dozen so far — are using an encrypted messaging app to discuss what to do if Trump’s political appointees undermine their agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment, flout the law, or delete valuable scientific data that the agency has been collecting for years, sources told POLITICO.
Fearing for their jobs, the employees began communicating incognito using the app Signal shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Signal, like WhatsApp and other mobile phone software, encrypts all communications, making it more difficult for hackers to gain access to them.
We are truly in uncharted territory. Unpresidented!
What stories are you following today?
It looks like one thing we won’t have many of in the tRump era is slow news days. We are on the brink of something big–much bigger than Watergate, Iran-Contra, or any other scandal in my lifetime at least. We must brace ourselves to stand firm in the face of autocracy and the threat of actual tyranny. Watergate began slowly until the dam broke and it began escalating rapidly. This isn’t even starting that slowly.
Already we can see that tRump is planning some kind of real takeover–he’s already signaled a purge of the diplomatic corps, the state department, and the energy department. He has even ordered the commander of the DC National Guard to step down in the middle of the inauguration.
The Army general who heads the D.C. National Guard and has an integral part in overseeing the inauguration said Friday that he will be removed from command effective at 12:01 p.m. Jan. 20, just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president.
Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz’s departure will come in the middle of the presidential ceremony — classified as a national special security event — and while thousands of his troops are deployed to help protect the nation’s capital during an inauguration he has spent months helping to plan.
“The timing is extremely unusual,” Schwartz said in an interview Friday morning, confirming a memo announcing his ouster that was obtained by The Washington Post. During the inauguration, Schwartz will command not only members of the D.C. Guard but also 5,000 unarmed troops dispatched from across the country to help. He also will oversee military air support protecting Washington during the inauguration….
A person close to the transition said transition officials wanted to keep Schwartz in the job for continuity, but the Army pushed to replace him.
Schwartz, who was appointed to head the Guard by President George W. Bush in 2008, maintained the position through President Obama’s two terms. He said his orders came from the Pentagon in the form of an email that names his interim successor, a brigadier general, who takes over at 12:01 p.m. next Friday.
I don’t know if the fact that Schwartz is African American had any role in this decision, but the question must be asked.
And then there is James Comey. Has this man been compromised by tRump, his fear of the New York FBI office, the Russians, or all three? As Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money wrote yesterday, it’s way past time for Obama to fire Comey for cause.
James Comey, who threw the election to Donald Trump by repeatedly violating norms and regulations to falsely imply that Hillary Clinton was a crook, refuses to be candid about the FBI’s investigation Trump’s relationship with the Russians even in private:
Embattled FBI director James Comey has refused to clarify whether his organization is investigating Donald Trump’s ties to Russia in a closed briefing on Friday for members of Congress, angering legislators who recall his high-profile interjections about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Guardian has learned.
Comey’s lack of candor in a classified setting, intended to brief members on the intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump, follows a public rebuff this week to senators seeking clarification.
In that earlier hearing, Comey said he would “never comment” on a potential FBI investigation “in an open forum like this”, raising expectations among some attendees of Friday’s briefing that Comey would put the issue to rest in a classified setting.
But according to sources attending the closed-door Friday morning meeting, that was not the case. As such, frustration with Comey was bipartisan and heated, adding to intense pressure on the director of the FBI, whose conduct in the 2016 election itself is now being investigated by an independent US justice department watchdog.
Even in post-parody America, this is astounding conduct.
After yesterday’s closed door hearing with intelligence officials, House Democrats stormed out, visibly enraged.
The Hill: Wasserman Schultz confronted Comey about Russian hacking.
The former head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) confronted FBI Director James Comey on Friday during a confidential briefing on Russian hacking that left many Democrats calling for Comey’s scalp, several lawmakers told The Hill.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was forced to resign last summer as head of the DNC amid the hacking scandal, told Comey that he should have come to her directly once the FBI was aware of the breach, just as he had done with other hacking victims….
“You let us down!” one Democrat yelled to Comey during the tense exchange, according to one attendee.
Another Democrat described the scene: “Essentially Debbie asked, how was it that the FBI knew that the DNC was being hacked and they didn’t tell her? He gave some bulls–t explanation, ‘That’s our standard, we called this one, we called that one’ — [she said] ‘Well, why didn’t you call me?’ ”
Recall that the only notification the FBI gave the DNC was a phone call from an agent to an IT guy who didn’t know whether the call was legitimate or a prank.
Yesterday, we also learned that top tRump aide Gen. Michael Flynn has been in in “frequent contact” with the Russian ambassador. The AP reports:
WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
After initially denying that Michael Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke Dec. 29, a Trump official said late Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions.
It’s not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office. But repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response.
Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the U.S. for the move, a decision Trump quickly praised.
More broadly, Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the incoming administration has already begun to lay the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow. That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including Republicans, have expressed outrage over intelligence officials’ assessment that Putin launched a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the U.S. election to benefit Trump.
In an interview published Friday evening by The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he might do away with Obama’s sanctions if Russia works with the U.S. on battling terrorists and achieving other goals.
“If Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions?” he asked.
In the same interview, tRump said he is not “committed to the One China policy,” according to NBC news this morning.
A couple of updates on the James Bond-like spy who gathered information on the likelihood that tRump has been compromised by the Russian government:
David Corn at Mother Jones: The Spy Who Wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It Was “Hair-Raising” Stuff.
Last fall, a week before the election, I broke the story that a former Western counterintelligence official had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump. The memos noted that this spy’s sources had provided him with information indicating that Russian intelligence had mounted a yearslong operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump and had gathered secret compromising material on Trump. They also alleged that Trump and his inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin. These memos caused a media and political firestorm this week when CNN reported that President Barack Obama and Trump had been told about their existence, as part of briefings on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked political targets during the 2016 campaign to help Trump become president. For my story in October, I spoke with the former spy who wrote these memos, under the condition that I not name him or reveal his nationality or the spy service where he had worked for nearly two decades, mostly on Russian matters.“Someone like me stays in the shadows,” the former spy said.
The former spy told me that he had been retained in early June by a private research firm in the United States to look into Trump’s activity in Europe and Russia. “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” he recalled. One question for him, he said, was, “Are there business ties in Russia?” The American firm was conducting a Trump opposition research project that was first financed by a Republican source until the funding switched to a Democratic one. The former spy said he was never told the identity of the client.
The former intelligence official went to work and contacted his network of sources in Russia and elsewhere. He soon received what he called “hair-raising” information. His sources told him, he said, that Trump had been “sexually compromised” by Russian intelligence in 2013 (when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe contest) or earlier and that there was an “established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” He noted he was “shocked” by these allegations. By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.
The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was “sufficiently serious” for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. “This was an extraordinary situation,” he remarked.
The response to the information from the FBI, he recalled, was “shock and horror.” After a few weeks, the bureau asked him for information on his sources and their reliability and on how he had obtained his reports. He was also asked to continue to send copies of his subsequent reports to the bureau. These reports were not written, he noted, as finished work products; they were updates on what he was learning from his various sources. But he said, “My track record as a professional is second to no one.”
Read the rest at the link.
Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.
Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.
However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
It is believed that a colleague of Mr Steele in Washington, Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way and, at the end also continued with the Trump case without being paid.
WTF was Comey doing? Was he trying to hold off long enough to find another excuse to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances and get tRump elected? Comey has to go!
That’s all I have for you this morning, but there is plenty more going on. Please post your own links along with your comments in the thread below.