Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Last Call For Comey's Revenge

As if today wasn't crazy enough, now the NY Times drops this blockbuster that ends the issue on whether Trump was truly obstructing justice by firing now former FBI Director James Comey.

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. 
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. 
The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. 
Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.
Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

That would be the ballgame if any of this actually mattered to the GOP.  But we will get platitudes and bleating about "concern" and the Republicans will talk tough, but in the end none of them will lift a finger.  The worst of them will simply dismiss Comey's memo as meaningless, which I'm sure will make the FBI and rest of the intelligence community have a fit, but they can't really do anything about Trump either.

Republicans immediately want Comey to testify, and it is there, almost certainly behind closed doors, where this story will die.

Eventually somebody will talk Trump into pulling the trigger on pardons, and that will be it.  What voters will do is anyone's guess.  After all, we elected him knowing full well who and what he was.

We're deep into authoritarian crisis mode now.  Either the GOP acts, or the voters will have to.

I'm not sure either group will even give a damn.

The Blue Wave May Be Here

The latest monthly survey from Public Policy Polling shows some pretty dire news for the GOP and for Trump, as Republicans appear to be on the verge of a blowout in the midterms.

PPP's new national poll finds that Republicans are facing significant backlash over the health care bill that's having the effect of firing up Democrats and putting them in position to make major gains in the House next year. 
Democrats now have a 49-38 lead overall on the generic Congressional ballot, up from 47-41 a month ago. Even more notable though is that among voters who say they're 'very excited' to turn out in the 2018 election, the Democratic lead balloons to 27 points at 61-34. The outcome of lower turnout midterm elections often hinges on which side is more engaged, and Democrats have the clear advantage at this point on that front- 63% of their voters say they're 'very excited' about voting in next year's election, compared to only 52% of Republicans who say the same. 
The American Health Care Act has been a complete disaster politically for Republicans. Only 25% of voters support it, to 52% who are opposed. Even among Republican voters there's only 49% support for the measure, while Democrats (76%) are considerably more unified in their opposition to it. Voters say by a 20 point margin that they're less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the AHCA- just 27% say they're more likely to vote for a pro-AHCA candidate, compared to 47% who are less likely to vote for one. 

That's the second poll this month (PPP along with Quinnipiac) showing Democrats with a double digit lead in the generic ballot. Quinnipiac has the Dems ahead by a whopping 54-38% margin in May.

On the PPP side on Trump, for the first time, a plurality now wants him impeached.

Only 40% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 54% who disapprove. For the first time we find more voters (48%) in support of impeaching Trump than there are (41%) opposed to the idea. Only 43% of voters think Trump is actually going to end up serving his full term as President, while 45% think he won't, and 12% aren't sure one way or the other. 
Voters are both having buyer's remorse about the outcome of the 2016 election and wishing they could return to the good old days of 4 months ago. By an 8 point margin, 49/41, they say they wish Hillary Clinton was President instead of Trump. And by a 16 point margin, 55/39, they say they wish Barack Obama was still in office instead of Trump.

Last week was brutal for Trump's numbers, and remember these polls were taken before today's revelations about Trump spilling classified info to Russia while meeting with the Russian ambassador and Foreign Minister in the Oval Office, and it turns out hey, the source of that info was Israel.

It will get worse from here.

Loose Trumps Sink Ships

It's nice to know that all this time, the top secret plan to get Donald Trump to give the Russians classified military intelligence was to simply get him to talk a length in the same room as some Russians. The Washington Post's front page:

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

To recap, Trump's White House handlers realized that Tang The Conqueror here had blabbed some serious info on an ISIS agent to a foreign power and actually ratted him out for doing so to the press.  Reuters is corroborating the story as well.

U.S. President Donald Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russia's foreign minister about a planned Islamic State operation during their meeting last week, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the situation said on Monday.

The intelligence shared at the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak was supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, both officials said.

The White House said the allegations, first reported by the Washington Post, were not correct.

"The story that came out tonight as reported is false," H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, told reporters at the White House, adding that the two men reviewed a range of common threats including to civil aviation.

"At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. The president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. ... I was in the room. It didn't happen," he said.

The White House also released a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the meeting focused on counterterrorism, and from deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, who said the Washington Post story was false.

Reacting to the news, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, called Trump's conduct "dangerous" and "reckless." The Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, called the allegations "very, very troubling" if true.

Notice McMaster's dodge here.  "Sources and methods" weren't discussed directly, but that still leaves a huge swath of things that could be the topic, like, say, Trump confirming that we had somebody in ISIS giving us intel and Lavrov being able to figure it out.

The Reuters story goes on to say that the intel Trump dumped was related to the reason why the regime wants a ban on electronic devices in flights to the US from Europe and the Middle East.

The gang at Lawfare gives us a very good summary of this disastrous situation and while Trump can disclose classified info to whomever he wants to as the guy in the Oval Office, actually doing so could be construed as a major violation of the Oath of Office.

Questions of criminality aside, we turn to the far more significant issues: If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office. As Quinta and Ben have elaborated on in some detail, in taking the oath President Trump swore to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” to the best of his ability. It’s very hard to argue that carelessly giving away highly sensitive material to an adversary foreign power constitutes a faithful execution of the office of President.

Violating the oath of office does not require violating a criminal statute. If the President decided to write the nuclear codes on a sticky note on his desk and then took a photo of it and tweeted it, he would not technically have violated any criminal law–just as he hasn’t here. He has the constitutional authority to dictate that the safeguarding of nuclear materials shall be done through sticky notes in plain sight and tweeted, even the authority to declassify the codes outright. Yet, we would all understand this degree of negligence to be a gross violation of his oath of office.

Congress has alleged oath violations—albeit violations tied to criminal allegations or breaches of statutory obligations—all three times it has passed or considered seriously articles of impeachment against presidents: against Andrew Johnson (“unmindful of the high duties of his oath of office”), Richard Nixon (“contrary to his oath”), and Bill Clinton (“in violation of his constitutional oath”). Further, two of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon alleged no direct violation of the law. Instead, they concerned Nixon’s abuse of his power as President, which, like the President putting the nuclear codes on Twitter, is an offense that can only be committed by the President and has thus never been explicitly prohibited in criminal law.

There’s thus no reason why Congress couldn’t consider a grotesque violation of the President’s oath as a standalone basis for impeachment—a high crime and misdemeanor in and of itself. This is particularly plausible in a case like this, where the oath violation involves giving sensitive information to an adversary foreign power. That’s getting relatively close to the “treason” language in the impeachment clauses; it’s pretty easy to imagine a hybrid impeachment article alleging a violation of the oath in service of a hostile foreign power. So legally speaking, the matter could be very grave for Trump even though there is no criminal exposure.

This approach to sensitive information does not appear to be a one-off. President Trump has previously taken heat for his cavalier attitude towards safeguarding classified information, for example when he openly reviewed plans related to a North Korean nuclear test in the Mar-a-Lago dining room in full view of other diners or when he appeared to inadvertently confirm the authenticity of leaked CIA documents on Fox News.

Finally, this morning Trump confirmed the story in a pair of tweets.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to share information with Russia, saying he shared facts with Russian officials at an publicly known meeting at the White House last week.

"As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism," Trump said on Twitter.

In other words if last week was terrible for Trump, this week just got abysmal, and it's only Tuesday morning.  And please remember none of this is in a vacuum, all of Trump's previous actions have directly led up to this moment.

I asked earlier this week what it would take besides the obvious Comey firing to get the GOP to act.  Giving away classified info to the Russian ambassador and Foreign Minister is actually far worse, but I'm betting by the end of the day the story will be "hunting down who leaked the story to the press" rather than "Trump screws his new National Security Adviser in front of everyone".


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