Thursday, December 20, 2018

Last Call For (Mad) Dog Gone, Jim

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is out in February, with Trump's surprise move to turn Syria over to Putin and Assad the last straw for the general.

Jim Mattis, the four-star Marine general turned defense secretary, resigned on Thursday in protest of President Trump’s decision to withdraw 2,000 American troops from Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State.

Mr. Trump announced the resignation in two tweets Thursday evening, and said Mr. Mattis will leave at the end of February.

Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.

Hours later, the Pentagon released Mr. Mattis’ resignation letter, in which he implicitly criticized his commander in chief. Mr. Mattis said in the letter that he believes that the president deserves a defense secretary who is more in tune with his worldview.

“One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” Mr. Mattis wrote.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he wrote.

[Read Mr. Mattis’ resignation letter here.]

His departure leaves the Trump administration without one of the few officials viewed as standing between a mercurial president and global tumult. The president said he would name Mr. Mattis’ replacement shortly.

Mattis's letter makes it clear that he believes Trump has no idea and no business being Commander-in-Chief, the old warhorse understands better than most that diplomacy and alliances are the key to America's place in the world, not tanks and bombers.

Mattis will tender his resignation on February 28, meaning at this point nearly all the major Cabinet players in the Trump regime's first two years are effectively gone in various swirling clouds of failure and scandal: Rex Tillerson at State,  Jeff Sessions at Justice, Ryan Zinke at Interior, David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs,  Tom Price at Health and Human Services, Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador, Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, both Mike Flynn and K.T. McFarland as National Security Advisers, and both Reince Priebus and John Kelly as White House Chiefs of Staff.

Wilbur Ross at Commerce and Kirstjen Nielsen at Homeland Security are hanging on by threads due to growing scandals of their own, and after the performance of the stock markets in the last three weeks, don't be surprised if Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin's head is on the block too.

Still, by my count, that leaves zero adults in the room to keep an eye on Trump now, and the rats can't leave the sinking ship of state quickly enough.

At this point, we're off the map.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

A big story from BuzzFeed News today involving Russian meddling in the 2016 election, not only did the Russians want to help Trump win, they wanted to find dirt on Clinton and her supporters so that they lost.

US Treasury Department officials used a Gmail back channel with the Russian government as the Kremlin sought sensitive financial information on its enemies in America and across the globe, according to documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News.

The extraordinary unofficial line of communication arose in the final year of the Obama administration — in the midst of what multiple US intelligence agencies have said was a secret campaign by the Kremlin to interfere in the US election. Russian agents ostensibly trying to track ISIS instead pressed their American counterparts for private financial documents on at least two dozen dissidents, academics, private investigators, and American citizens.

Most startlingly, Russia requested sensitive documents on Dirk, Edward, and Daniel Ziff, billionaire investors who had run afoul of the Kremlin. That request was made weeks before a Russian lawyer showed up at Trump Tower offering top campaign aides “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — including her supposed connection to the Ziff brothers.

Russia’s financial crimes agency, whose second-in-command is a former KGB officer and schoolmate of President Vladimir Putin, also asked the Americans for documents on executives from two prominent Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish Women, as well as Kremlin opponents living abroad in London and Kiev.

In an astonishing departure from protocol, documents show that at the same time the requests were being made, Treasury officials were using their government email accounts to send messages back and forth with a network of private Hotmail and Gmail accounts set up by the Russians, rather than communicating through the secure network usually used to exchange information with other countries.

Analysts at an elite agency within Treasury first warned supervisors in 2016 that the Russians were “manipulating the system” to conduct “fishing expeditions.” And they raised fears that the Treasury’s internal systems could be compromised by viruses contained in emails from the unofficial Russian accounts. But staff continued using the Gmail back channel into 2017, despite repeated internal warnings that Russia could be trawling for sensitive financial records — including Social Security and bank account numbers — to spy on, endanger, or recruit targets in the West.
The Treasury Department refused to tell BuzzFeed News why its officials were communicating with unofficial Gmail accounts at the same time that Russia was sending the suspicious requests, or to say whether it eventually turned over any documents in response. Nor would officials answer any other specific questions about the matter.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Treasury does not discuss or comment on confidential communications with foreign governments, including to confirm whether or not they have occurred. We have notified our Office of the Inspector General of these allegations."

The details in the story are pretty shocking, multiple whistleblowers who were ignored, evidence that the Treasury Department's international money-laundering watchdog group was completely compromised by the Kremlin's counterpart agency, and that they were using open Gmail channels to send information that Russia wanted on US citizens.

The fact is the Russians had the Treasury Department infiltrated for years and they wanted financial dirt on both Russia and Trump's enemies.

Hell of a thing.

Ol' Saint Barack Is Back

Watch out, Santa: Former president Barack Obama is coming for your sleigh.

With a fluffy red cap and a bulging bag slung over his shoulder, Obama delivered presents (and more than a few gasps) to the young patients at Children’s National hospital in Northwest Washington on Wednesday.

First on Obama’s list was a group of patients 4 and up who were making snowflakes in one of the hospital’s playrooms. After the excitement died down, the former president handed out jigsaw puzzles (which were his grandmother’s favorite, he told the crowd), Hot Wheels sets, remote-control cars, and glittery nail polish, among other goodies collected by Obama and his staffers. Hey, the guy knows his audience.

“I know they will be talking about it for years to come,” said Kurt Newman, chief executive and president of Children’s National Health System. “At such a busy time of year, when no one wants to be in the hospital, his natural warmth lifted the spirits of those kids, their parents and of each staff member he met along the way.”

Obama Claus also dropped by individual patient rooms for one-on-one visits with children and their parents. He gifted one 12-year-old patient who was nervous about heading to high school next year a piece of advice: “Even the cool kids don’t have it all figured out.”

Before leaving, Obama thanked the staff for working during the holidays and recorded a video message to be played on the hospital’s internal TV system for those he wasn’t able to visit during the trip.

Only a handful of the Children’s National staff knew that the president was coming to town, but word spread quickly during the 90-minute visit. By the time he was headed for the door, a crowd had gathered at a nearby nursing station. The group of doctors, residents and nurses cheered for Obama before busting into an impromptu rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Meanwhile, the guy who we decided should succeed this man is busy on a 16-day golf vacation in Florida where the walls are closing in around him and his criminal family.

That's America for you.


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