Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

If you're wondering what Putin got out of Monday's Helsinki meeting with his star employee Donald Trump, the answer is delicious, delicious real estate that will suddenly become available in the Balkans.

President Trump, who rattled U.S. allies at a NATO meeting last week, voiced concern in a television interview broadcast Tuesday night that sending troops from the alliance to defend an “aggressive” Monte­negro could result in World War III. 
Trump was asked about Monte­negro, which joined NATO last year and has a population smaller than the District of Columbia, during a Fox News interview with host Tucker Carlson. 
Carlson pressed Trump on the purpose of the alliance, which was created in 1949 to protect the United States, Canada and a host of Western European nations from Soviet incursion. The organization calls for member nations to come to the aid of any ally that is attacked. 
“Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” Carlson asked in the interview, which was recorded Monday following Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Helsinki.

“I understand what you’re saying, I’ve asked the same question,” Trump responded. “You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III. But that’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago.”

Understand that this is Trump, a day after coming back from a two-hour closed door meeting with Russia's president, now saying that he doesn't believe America should answer its Article V NATO responsibilities in case a NATO country is say, I don't know, annexed by Moscow or something.  You know, no big deal, right?

Also, this is the same day Trump came back from Finland after meeting Putin and said that he looks forward to working with Russia militarily.

Russia announced it was ready to pursue agreements reached by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump "in the sphere of international security," though the White House and Pentagon would not confirm any agreements had been made or offer any details. 
Trump and Putin met for about two hours during their summit in Helsinki with only translators present. It is still not clear what the two men discussed or agreed to during their meeting. 
"The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is ready for practical implementation of the agreements reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in the sphere of international security achieved at the Helsinki summit," Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. 
The Russian military "is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security," Konashenkov said. 
The National Security Council would not confirm what Trump had agreed to in the one-on-one with Putin. A spokesman for the NSC told CNN on Tuesday that they were still "reviewing the discussion."

Russians are all ready to jump into this agreement with Trump, but we don't know what's in it.  The NSC doesn't even know, because nobody told them.  Trump didn't tell anybody, it seems.

So once again, we have Trump saying "screw NATO" and "Here's our new military agreement with Russia".  You don't have to be a think tank fellow to see the implications here, especially when you factor in Russia's little adventure in taking Crimea from Ukraine, which everyone seems to have accepted as geopolitical fact now.

So yeah, if you're wondering what Putin is getting out of this?  A whole row of green lights from America.  And our response?  Well, the Washington Post is certainly outraged, but as long as Trump's approval ratings among Republicans remains at the 85-90% level it is now, nothing will change.  maybe that means Mueller drops a nuke, maybe that means the GOP gets clobbered in the midterms so badly that they turn on him, but most likely this leads to Mueller being fired and the fight that follows.

We'll see.

That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

Last weekend I talked about the plan by the House GOP Freedom Caucus to bring impeachment proceedings against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Those articles of impeachment were supposed to come to the House floor as early as Monday, and were supposed to give Donald Trump the cover he needed to fire Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whom Rosenstein appointed.

But that was before Trump's disastrous performance in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, a debacle so bad that even Republicans are now starting to realize just how far gone Trump is down the "useful idiot to Russia" path, and suddenly that impeachment maneuver against Rosenstein looks like the aiding and abetting of a foreign asset that it is.

A long-simmering rift between Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s top Hill allies is starting to boil over as both sides fight over an effort to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The Wisconsin Republican and retiring House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) have stifled conservatives’ push in recent weeks to impeach Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian contacts with Trump's 2016 campaign.

Gowdy scoffed at the suggestion on national television Sunday. And Ryan — who has long sought to avoid such confrontations with the Justice Department — told reporters Tuesday morning that DOJ is “now coming into compliance” with congressional subpoenas as part of lawmakers’ scrutiny into alleged FBI bias against Trump.

But those comments drew a swift rebuke from conservative Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who are leading the impeachment campaign and argue that Rosenstein is slow-walking their oversight of the FBI. Meadows told reporters Tuesday morning that Ryan appeared misinformed about what Justice has and has not turned over.

"I can tell you that I guess the speaker’s staff is not fully informing him of what DOJ’s actually complying with,” Meadows said.

Meadows also noted that the House had already adopted a resolution giving the Justice Department until July 6 to turn over the remaining documents that lawmakers have requested. While Ryan has said those documents are being handed over, Meadows said that’s hogwash.

“We’re still waiting on tens of thousands… of documents that many of the people here today have been advocating for a long time,” Meadows said. “How long do we have to wait?”

The sniping follows Trump's widely criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has led even loyal Republicans to question his judgment. Ryan allies and top Republicans thought the bipartisan outcry over Trump’s refusal to accept his own intelligence community's conclusions — that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — would shift attention away from their own internecine procedural gripes.

Indeed, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say it has bolstered the importance of Mueller's probe, which led to last week’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for the 2016 hacks of the Democratic National Committee.

But Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill are vowing to keep up the pressure on Rosenstein and are prepping an increasingly aggressive push against him for what they claim is his resistance to turning over documents connected to the FBI's Russia probe.

"All options are still on the table," said Jordan when asked about the prospect of impeaching Rosenstein. The Freedom Caucus co-founder argued that “we have caught them hiding information from us [and] redacting information that should not have been redacted.”

He added: “If that is not a sufficient reason to move forward [with impeachment], particularly when they are not in compliance with the resolution that was passed by the full House of Representatives two weeks ago, I do not know what is. … All options are still on the table.”

So the plan has run into a buzzsaw.  House Freedom Caucus members still plan to push forward, but they can't without Ryan.  Oh, and there's still the little matter of Jim Jordan still being in the House at all as calls for his resignation over his role in Ohio State's wrestling sexual abuse scandal when he was assistant coach for the team are getting very very loud.

As long as Ryan and Gowdy continue to block the Freedom Caucus's impeachment circus, the plan is off.  It's possible that Trump could fire Rosenstein and Mueller at any time, yes, but the last several days shows us there are at least some limits to how far the GOP is willing to follow Trump off an obvious cliff.

At least, it shows that limits are self-imposed by cowardice, and that Republicans are still capable of being more afraid of voters and public sentiment than they are of Trump.  Even for a split-second, that's an improvement.

But in the near-term, the reality of Trump's overwhelming approval by GOP voters will reassert itself, and the Cult of Trump will continue, and eventually, he will make his move on Mueller.  After all, attacking Mueller is the main midterm strategy of the GOP.

Headed into a election that’s expected to favor Democrats, a top GOP Senate strategist says Republicans are counting on President Donald Trump’s media dominance to turn out their voters in November — and drown out opponents’ messaging. 
If successful, Republicans could pick up as many as four Senate seats this November, even as the left swamps their candidates in fundraising and enthusiasm, GOP operative Josh Holmes told Beyond the Bubble on Monday. 
“Everybody thinks that President Trump is some kind of drag on the Republican Party, [when] in this case, he’s just the essential ingredient,” said Holmes, who’s helped engineer his party’s Senate strategy for the past 16 years as a chief aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 
What the president is doing by continuing to discuss the investigation [into allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia] and the quote-unquote ‘witch hunt,’ particularly on prime time Fox [News], is doing more to mobilize base voters than any legislative issue we’ve seen,” added Holmes.

It may be delayed for a bit by the Helsinki debacle, but it's still coming.  Keeping Mueller around as a boogeyman has paid off so far for Trump and the GOP, but eventually Mueller's going to hit pay dirt, and when that happens, the real fight will begin.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

GQ political reporter Julia Ioffe argues that Monday's summit debacle proves the Sword of Damocles that Putin is dangling over Donald Trump's head isn't a pee tape or blackmail, but the results of the 2016 presidential election itself.

Donald Trump today described his campaign as “brilliant,” but those of us who were there remember it for what it was: lurching, volatile, scraping the bottom of the barrel for even remotely competent staff. As we now know, the campaign, in the form of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone, was willing to take all the help it could get. The trickle of indictments from Robert Mueller make it increasingly difficult to believe that there's no there there, that the Russians didn't meddle, that the Trump campaign didn't know about it, let alone actively welcome it, that all this stolen information just happened to coincide with Trump's statements and the campaign's ad buys and didn't change any votes.

Of course, Trump denies it now. It's hard to imagine even a politician less thin-skinned and prideful than him saying, essentially, “Yes, you're right. My victory was illegitimate, and therefore so is my presidency.” There is no other way to frame this: This is, and has always been, about the legitimacy of his presidency. And no one, especially not a sitting president who values the idea of himself above all else, would cede that ground

And of course Putin denies it. Going into the summit, friends in the White House pool and TV hosts asked what Putin would do to Trump in their meeting. Would he try to intimidate him, like he did by bringing his black Labrador Konni to his meetings with the notoriously dog-phobic Angela Merkel? Would he push on all those financial ties Trump's sons have bragged about over the years? Of course not. In the end, the only approach that works with Trump is flattery. Trump wants Boris Johnson to be prime minster of England not just because he likes his position on Brexit, but because “he has said very nice things about me.” He likes Putin not just because he's an authoritarian Trump clearly wants to emulate, but because he believes Putin called him a “genius.” (The actual word used, “colorful,” was more of a backhanded compliment, but Putin wisely let the mistranslation stand.) And if Putin were smart, which he clearly is, he would have flattered Trump exactly the way he needed to be in their tête-à-tête: by echoing his denials. Of course we didn't interfere, Donald. You won fair and square. You did it all by your genius self.
I was always skeptical of the idea that Putin had kompromat on Trump that was something akin to the rumored pee-pee tape for two reasons. First, because the operative element in blackmail is shame, and as we saw with his reaction to another embarrassing tape, the one from Access Hollywood, Trump is un-blackmailable on that front. I also assumed that Trump would lash out at anyone who tried to pressure him openly: Do this, or we release the tape. No one puts Trump in a corner.

What didn't occur to me was the most obvious option, the one we saw revealed in Helsinki. When Putin was asked if he had compromising materials on Trump, Trump interjected and said, “I have to say, if they had it, it would have been out long ago.” And it’s true. It’s been out for ages, since the October 2016 warning by the intelligence community, then the January 2017 report from the Director of National Intelligence, then the drip-drip-drip of revelations in the press, and indictment after Mueller indictment, the last installment coming just three days before the Helsinki presser. Trump was right. It is out there.

The kompromat is the election result itself, and Trump is lashing out at the people who are trying to get him to do something on its basis: the press, the Democrats, the intelligence community, Robert Mueller, and Trump's own Department of Justice
. We are the ones saying, Do this or else. And Trump is, predictably, lashing out. The only person, it seems, who knows how to use the blackmail to his advantage is Putin. True to the intelligence training he spoke about today, Putin knows his subject and his supple psychology, the nooks and crannies of his insecurities and obsessions. Why threaten him when you can get him to do your bidding with simple flattery: Of course we didn't interfere, Donald. You won fair and square. You did it all by your genius self.

It's a solid theory, for sure. Trump is doing Putin's budding because anything else would be an admission that he cheated and had help, that he didn't win on his own, and that he doesn't deserve it, that he's nothing more than a sham. His ego can't handle it.

That's all true, of course.  Trump has always been a sham, but now he's trapped in his own grift forever, and so are the Republicans around him and the voters who fell for the long con.  They will never, ever come clean on this, but it would destroy them for all time.  They would go down as the greatest villains in modern history, the dupes, the suckers, and the goats.

They flocked to Trump because they were terrified that America was passing them by.  Admitting they were willing participants in the con, because the best cons always make you want to believe in them, you see, that would end them.  They would lose everything, and they would deserve to lose everything.

Remember, Trump never thought he was going to win.  But he did, and he did it with help from Putin.  So now he's along for the ride, and Putin is driving.  We're all passengers now.

So they will play along until we disabuse of them of the notion that the con can continue.


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