Thursday Reads

wu201110

Good Morning!!

Prospects are not looking good for Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do serious damage to the government in his remaining lame duck weeks. The biggest problem for the transition to a real president is that Trump’s staff and most GOP elected officials are living in fear of Trump’s tantrums.

The Daily Beast: Trump’s National Security Adviser Tells Staff: Don’t Even Mention Biden’s Name.

President Donald Trump continues to refuse to cede the election. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, is enabling the mayhem, four senior officials told The Daily Beast.

O’Brien—once viewed as a potential check on Trump’s erratic national security demands—endorsed the installation of a pair of Trumpists at the Pentagon’s highest levels, while a defense secretary O’Brien has long opposed was fired by tweet.

One official claimed that O’Brien has been supportive of a peaceful transfer of power, joking in a Monday event about Trump’s loss and directing his staff to begin drafting transition materials. But three other officials told The Daily Beast that O’Brien has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest enablers at a decisive moment, supporting the president’s bid to retain power even though it is being waged through a nationwide disinformation campaign….

20201110edshe-bThis week, officials say, O’Brien supported the removal of several top officials at the Pentagon and favored Christopher Miller, a former NSC official who moved to the National Counterterrorism Center, to replace Esper as secretary of defense. He also approved of the installation of Kash Patel as Miller’s chief of staff, officials said. Patel worked previously under O’Brien at the National Security Council. One senior official described Miller and Patel as “O’Brien’s boys.” Patel is also said to be close with another former NSC colleague, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is now the Pentagon’s senior intelligence official.

A bit more:

Other officials familiar with the matter noted that O’Brien has also pushed national security officials to publicly embrace the absurd Trump message that the election has not been certified and that there are still legal battles playing out across the country that could turn in the president’s favor.

“If you even mention Biden’s name… that’s a no-go, you’d be fired,” one national security official said. “Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the [Biden] transition.”

Asked if officials in the White House feel comfortable saying Biden’s name in the West Wing, one senior White House official said, half-jokingly, “Sure, you can say his name. If you’re talking about who lost the election to the president.”

Behind closed doors, one official claimed, O’Brien has been much more forthcoming about Trump’s loss and the need to prepare for a transition. The problem, the other officials said, is that O’Brien hasn’t made that known to the commander in chief.

There’s much more interesting gossip at the Daily Beast link.

wu201109On the other hand, some right wingers are speaking up, including John Yoo, Mike DeWine, and John Bolton.

The law firms representing Trump are also getting antsy. The New York Times: Growing Discomfort at Law Firms Representing Trump in Election Lawsuits.

Jones Day is the most prominent firm representing President Trump and the Republican Party as they prepare to wage a legal war challenging the results of the election. The work is intensifying concerns inside the firm about the propriety and wisdom of working for Mr. Trump, according to lawyers at the firm.

Doing business with Mr. Trump — with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, meritless lawsuits and refusal to pay what he owes — has long induced heartburn among lawyers, contractors, suppliers and lenders. But the concerns are taking on new urgency as the president seeks to raise doubts about the election results.

Some senior lawyers at Jones Day, one of the country’s largest law firms, are worried that it is advancing arguments that lack evidence and may be helping Mr. Trump and his allies undermine the integrity of American elections, according to interviews with nine partners and associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.

At another large firm, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, based in Columbus, Ohio, lawyers have held internal meetings to voice similar concerns about their firm’s election-related work for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party, according to people at the firm. At least one lawyer quit in protest.

Read more at the NYT.

245440_rgb_768Yesterday another large law firm withdrew from a case in Arizona. Westlaw Today: Snell & Wilmer withdraws from election lawsuit as Trump contests Arizona results.

(Reuters) – The largest law firm representing the Trump campaign or its allies in post-election litigation challenging votes in key states has withdrawn from an election lawsuit in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Associate Presiding Civil Judge Daniel Kiley on Tuesday granted Snell & Wilmer’s request to withdraw as counsel of record for the Republican National Committee. The RNC had teamed-up with the Trump campaign and the Arizona Republican Party in the case, which alleges that Maricopa County incorrectly rejected some votes cast on Election Day.

Snell & Wilmer partners Brett Johnson and Eric Spencer first moved to withdraw on Sunday, a day after the case was filed. Johnson and Spencer did not respond to requests for comment. Snell & Wilmer chairman Matthew Feeney said the firm doesn’t comment on its client work.

Two other large law firms that have represented the Trump campaign in election litigation, Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, have faced an onslaught of online criticism this week from critics who say the cases erode confidence in the democratic process, sparked by a Monday New York Times story focused on the firms’ roles.

This story at The Washington Post by Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Ashley Parker suggests that Trump may be beginning to accept reality: Trump insists he’ll win, but aides say he has no real plan to overturn results and talks of 2024 run.

lk110520daprTrump aides, advisers and allies said there is no grand strategy to reverse the election results, which show President-elect Joe Biden with a majority of electoral college votes, as well as a 5 million-vote lead in the national popular vote.

Asked about Trump’s ultimate plan, one senior administration official chuckled and said, “You’re giving everybody way too much credit right now.”

Republican officials have scrambled nationwide to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud that could bolster the Trump campaign’s legal challenges, but no such evidence has surfaced. And Biden’s lead in several states targeted by the Trump campaign has expanded as late-counted votes are reported. In all-important Pennsylvania, the Democrat now leads by more than 50,000 votes….

Trump has been spending his days largely on the phone, calling advisers, allies and friends. The president has been “trying to find people who will give him good news,” one adviser said.

Still, Trump has indicated in some of these conversations that he understands Biden will take over the presidency on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. Rather than talking about a second term, Trump has been matter-of-factly discussing a possible 2024 campaign — an indication that he knows his time as president is coming to an end, at least for now.

“I’m just going to run in 2024. I’m just going to run again,” Trump has been saying, according to a senior administration official who has spoken with him this week.

In 2024, Trump will be 79 years old and his dementia will have gotten much worse. But he’ll likely try to continue making our lives a living hell after he leaves the White House. 

jd111120daprAccording to Mike Allen at Axios, Trump plans to form his own media company: Scoop: Trump eyes digital media empire to take on Fox News.

President Trump has told friends he wants to start a digital media company to clobber Fox News and undermine the conservative-friendly network, sources tell Axios.

The state of play: Some Trump advisers think Fox News made a mistake with an early call (seconded by AP) of President-elect Biden’s win in Arizona. That enraged Trump, and gave him something tangible to use in his attacks on the network.

  • “He plans to wreck Fox. No doubt about it,” said a source with detailed knowledge of Trump’s intentions…..

Here’s Trump’s plan, according to the source:

  • There’s been lots of speculation about Trump starting a cable channel. But getting carried on cable systems would be expensive and time-consuming.

  • Instead, Trump is considering a digital media channel that would stream online, which would be cheaper and quicker to start.

  • Trump’s digital offering would likely charge a monthly fee to MAGA fans. Many are Fox News viewers, and he’d aim to replace the network — and the $5.99-a-month Fox Nation streaming service, which has an 85% conversion rate from free trials to paid subscribers — as their top destination.

I’ll believe that when I see it. Everyone needs to remember that Trump is a terrible businessman. Besides, he will have to deal with his massive debts and likely criminal charges in New York.

245231_rgb_768In the meantime, Trump has decapitated the top leadership of the Department of Defense and he may soon finish his takeover of the U.S. intelligence infrastructure.

The New York Times: Trump Stacks the Pentagon and Intel Agencies With Loyalists. To What End?

President Trump’s abrupt installation of a group of hard-line loyalists into senior jobs at the Pentagon has elevated officials who have pushed for more aggressive actions against Iran and for an imminent withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan over the objections of the military.

Mr. Trump made the appointments of four top Pentagon officials, including a new acting defense secretary, this week, leaving civilian and military officials to interpret whether this indicated a change in approach in the final two months of his presidency.

At the same time, Mr. Trump named Michael Ellis as a general counsel at the National Security Agency over the objections of the director, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone.

There is no evidence so far that these new appointees harbor a secret agenda on Iran or have taken up their posts with an action plan in hand. But their sudden appearance has been a purge of the Pentagon’s top civilian hierarchy without recent precedent.

Administration officials said the appointments were partly about Afghanistan, where the president has been frustrated by what he sees as a military moving too slowly to fulfill his promise that all American troops will be home by Christmas. The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and fierce proponent of ending American involvement in Afghanistan, would serve as a senior adviser.

Read the rest at the NYT.

I’ll end there, and add a few more links in the comment thread. I hope everyone is doing OK. Please check in with us today if you have the time and inclination–we love to hear from you!


Thursday Reads: No Achomlishments!

Good Morning!!

Another day, another Trump tantrum. Poor Donald. He just can’t handle Nancy Pelosi. What is it about her that gets under his notoriously thin skin?

The Washington Post: A Trump Twitter-style diatribe — live from the Rose Garden.

Trump, ever the director and star of his own White House movie, staged his outburst in two acts.

Act 1: Blow up a White House meeting with Democratic lawmakers that was over before the first handshake. Bye-bye, Infrastructure Day.

Act 2: Stride to a podium at a hastily arranged Rose Garden news conference to say he won’t work with Democrats on infrastructure or anything else while they pursue the “investigation track.”

What set the president off was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying earlier Wednesday that Trump has engaged in a “coverup” related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation and other probes.

“I don’t do coverups,” Trump angrily told reporters who had been hustled outside with little notice and less information.

Trump — who with his allies is actively working to block more than 20 separate investigations by Democrats — called himself “the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country,” and said he had been ready to discuss infrastructure and other priorities before Pelosi’s remark.

 

White House stenographer Peter Baker and his colleagues provide background on why Trump flipped out:

Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders were to meet on Wednesday morning to develop a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure. But Ms. Pelosi first met with Democrats on Capitol Hill to deflect pressure on impeachment, which she has opposed. Emerging from that meeting, she sought to signal sympathy with Democrats angry at the president’s efforts to block their investigations, declaring that “the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”

Mr. Trump saw the comments and did not hide his fury when she and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, arrived at the White House. The president walked into the Cabinet Room and did not shake anyone’s hand or sit down, according to people in the room. He said that he wanted to advance legislation on infrastructure, trade and other matters, but that Ms. Pelosi had said something “terrible” by accusing him of a cover-up.

After about three minutes, the president stalked out before anyone else could speak. From there, he headed to the Rose Garden, where a lectern had been set up with a preprinted sign that said “No Collusion, No Obstruction” along with statistics intended to show that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was more than thorough.

Here’s the weird graphic that accompanied Trump’s tantrum in the Rose Garden yesterday.

“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover-up,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t do cover-ups.”

“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi: ‘I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that, that’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with,’” he said….

“He just took a pass and it just makes me wonder why he did that,” Ms. Pelosi said. “In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”

Mr. Schumer expressed shock at the outcome. “To watch what happened in the White House would make your jaw drop,” he said.

Mr. Schumer said Mr. Trump’s eruption was hardly spontaneous, noting the preprinted sign on the lectern. Instead, he suggested that the president had staged it because he had not come up with a way to pay for such an enormous spending package.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Dana Millbank: Trump seems to be transparently mad.

This is not the work of an orderly mind.

President Trump stormed into the Cabinet Room 15 minutes late Wednesday morning and immediately proceeded to blow up a long-planned meeting with Democratic leaders about an infrastructure bill. He raged against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the terrible, horrible things she has said about him, and he vowed not to work on any legislation until Democrats stop investigating his administration. He stomped out of the room before Democrats had a chance to reply, then marched into the Rose Garden for an unscheduled news conference — or, more accurately, a 12-minute parade of paranoia.

Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch

Positively everybody was out to get him. They were out to get him in the third person: “They hated President Trump. They hated him with a passion,” he said. They were out to get him in the first-person plural: “These people were out to get us, the Republican Party and President Trump. They were out to get us.” What’s more, they have been after him “pretty much from the time we came down the escalator in Trump Tower.” And now they probably will impeach him because they “do whatever they have to do.”

He raged on. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has “been an enemy of mine for many years.” The “whole thing was a takedown attempt.” The assembled press “ought to be ashamed of yourselves for the way you report it so dishonestly.” And, even though he was the one who blew up the infrastructure meeting, he just knew that Democrats were “not really thinking they wanted to do infrastructure or anything else other than investigate.”

He ricocheted randomly among inchoate thought fragments: Infrastructure. WITCH HUNT! Unemployment. NO COLLUSION! Drug prices. HOAX! A special election in Pennsylvania. ONE-SIDED HORRIBLE THING! Tax cuts. DON JR. HAS GONE THROUGH HELL! I love the American people. IMPEACHMENT! Regulations. A DISGRACE! ABUSE!

Read more at the WaPo.

INTERLUDE: Trump is a textbook case of malignant narcissism. It’s as if we’re all attending a psychiatric case conference. From Wikipedia:

On 11 May 1968, the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg presented his paper Factors in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personalities, from the work of the Psychotherapy Research Project of The Menninger Foundation, at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in Boston.[6] Kernberg’s paper was first published in hard copy on 1 January 1970.[6] In Kernberg’s 1968 paper, first published in 1970 in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA), the word ‘malignant’ does not appear once, while ‘pathological’ or ‘pathologically’ appears 25 times.

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Developing these ideas further, Kernberg pointed out that the antisocial personality was fundamentally narcissistic and without morality.[6]Malignant narcissism includes a sadistic element creating, in essence, a sadistic psychopath. In his article, “malignant narcissism” and psychopathy are employed interchangeably. Kernberg first proposed malignant narcissism as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1984, but so far it has not been accepted in any of the medical manuals, such as the ICD-10 or the DSM-5.

Kernberg described malignant narcissism[7] as a syndrome characterized by a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial features, paranoid traits, and egosyntonic aggression. Other symptoms may include an absence of conscience, a psychological need for power, and a sense of importance (grandiosity). Pollock wrote: “The malignant narcissist is presented as pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism“.

At Politico, John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett discuss: Why Pelosi is so good at infuriating Trump.

On Wednesday, for the third time in barely six months, a meeting between the president, the speaker and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blew up in spectacular fashion.

And in each case, Trump handed Pelosi a huge gift, a priceless moment that helped unify the Democratic Caucus behind her at a crucial time.

“She’s smarter than him, and she’s tougher than him, and I think that bothers him,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a Pelosi ally. “It’s hard to get inside that head of his and figure out what drives him, other than an oversized ego and an undersized sense of ethics.”

Trump doesn’t have a condescending nickname for the speaker as he does for other Democrats. He even appears to have a grudging respect for Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker. He treats her as a peer who commands her chamber with a firm hand, and he knows she can deliver on votes, and that she is willing to call any bluff at any time….

“Guess what? He behaves like a child. This is what we have in the White House now,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who served under Pelosi in the House. “I’m used to it. I’m not expecting a grown-up any longer. I’m not expecting him to grow into the role.”

And for Pelosi, the timing is perfect. As the drumbeat for impeachment grows within her caucus, she can argue that what they’re doing is already working. Trump clearly doesn’t know how to respond to the barrage of Democratic investigations; they’re winning in the courts and he’s throwing fits. So why bother with impeachment, especially when Democrats know that a GOP-run Senate isn’t going to remove him from office?

Meanwhile, the Trump-Pelosi confrontations are getting to be recurring spectacles, and even Republicans know it hurts the president’s image.

“It’s a disaster,” said a senior Republican who requested anonymity. “It plays right into her hands.”

And on top of being smarter and tougher, she’s a woman. And her strategy of encouraging investigations while supposedly “tamping down” talk of impeachment is working. All those impatient Democrats on Twitter are too dumb to see what Pelosi is up to. It’s obvious that impeachment is very much on the table. Check out this assessment from a Republican political strategist.

Rich Wilson at The Daily Beast: Pelosi’s Strategy Is Working, and Trump Is One Step Closer to Being F*cked.

I’ve been a deep skeptic of impeachment as a political strategy, putting me solidly in the Nancy Pelosi go-slow camp. I’ve argued time and again that the smart play is IIABN: Impeachment in All but Name, but the great beast of Washington shambles ever forward, its ponderous, inexorable tread leading it toward the inevitable impeachment proceedings against Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States.

Can you make an impeachment case for obstruction based purely on the released information in the Mueller Report? Absolutely.

Are you there yet politically? Nope.

For my Democratic friends, I know how frustrating this seems to you. This week, forward progress on a number of fronts will help move the nation into the mental and political frame where impeachment could lead to the conviction of Trump, not just what he’ll view as a wrist-slap and a campaign motivation point for his base. You cannot shame the shameless. You cannot make a man who is without a single ethical standard change the behavior that allowed him to grift his way into office and to monetize the presidency….

For all that, the Democrats chomping at the bit to hold Trump to account are having a good week already, whether they know it or not. It’s so good, they’d be fools not to keep doing the things that are starting to work—the exercise of congressional power, the use of the courts to uphold the law, and the momentum building in the public mind for an accounting of Trump’s full-spectrum lawbreaking, contempt, obstruction, and corruption.

The Pelosi-Nadler strategy is starting to shift that political battlefield, and the legal landscape is breaking in their favor. The judicial branch isn’t yet a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc. Yet. Trump’s own mistakes are helping move the investigation strategy forward and are beginning to ensure that when Congress does start getting testimony and documents from the White House and Department of Justice, Trump will have painted himself into a corner he can’t tweet his way out of.

More interesting reads, links only.

The New Republic: Trump v. The “I” Word.

Kurt Bardella at NBC News: Trump’s House investigations tantrum proves Pelosi and Democrats are gaining momentum.

Bloomberg: Mueller Probed Cohen Ties to Oligarch’s Cousin, Filings Show.

The Daily Beast: Michael Cohen Called CEO Tied to Russian Oligarch Hundreds of Times, According to FBI.

Lawfare: Testimonial Immunity, Executive Privilege and the President’s Authority Over Former Officials.

NBC News: Wells Fargo, TD Bank have already given Trump-related financial documents to Congress.

The New York Times: Trump’s Financial Secrets Move Closer to Disclosure.

The Washington Post: Putin out-prepared Trump in key meeting, Rex Tillerson told House panel.

Forbes: The Truth Behind Trump Tower Moscow: How Trump Risked Everything For A (Relatively) Tiny Deal.