Trump Is Coming Apart

Trump Maladministration

Let’s review:

We still don’t know exactly who leaked the revelation that Cohen can testify that Trump knew about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting in advance, and why. There are all kinds of theories, including one that it came from Trump’s camp to take away Cohen’s biggest bargaining chip and/or diffuse the impact of what would inevitably come out, anyway.

Jonathan Chait writes that at least two other people had previously said Trump knew about the meeting in advance. Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg told Jake Tapper in an interview last March that Trump had been told. Also,

Steve Bannon has said the same thing. (“The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero.”) This is obvious. In a loosely structured campaign, with people coming in and out of Trump’s office at will, and all of them desperately vying for the boss’s approval, the notion that they could set up what they believed to be a meeting that would deliver devastating dirt on Crooked Hillary and not tell Trump what they had done is preposterous.

See also Josh Marshall:

Two days before the Trump Tower meeting, on June 7th 2016, President Trump made a statement teasing a big speech with new dirt about Hillary Clinton that he said would probably happen on June 13th.

You can video of that statement here.

The speech never happened. It was supposedly delayed because of the Pulse Night Club massacre on June 12th. But it was never rescheduled. There was a different speech. But it seemed clearly not to be the one he promised on June 7th.

So, yeah, he knew about the meeting; he green-lighted the meeting; he was all in on colluding with Russia to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. That’s beyond doubt at this point.

Then there’s what happened in the aftermath of the Times stories breaking the news about the Trump Tower meeting that were published just over a year ago. Mueller’s investigators have focused closely on the fact that President Trump dictated a statement which was released in the name of his son Don Jr. about the meeting. It was a false cover story which quickly fell apart. He claimed it was about adoptions. How did he know about it? Well, it seems that he knew about it in advance. But there’s another thread to the story.

Trump dictated that false statement, with the cover story about adoptions only hours after he had a one on one meeting with Vladimir Putin (with no other US persons involved) which was apparently also about adoptions. As I explain here, if you put all this information together, there’s a pretty strong case to be made that not only did President Trump know about the Trump Tower meeting in advance but that he concocted his false cover story with the assistance of Vladimir Putin. See the details here.

After that ghastly spectacle in Helsinki, who can doubt that Trump is Putin’s poodle? Other than hard-core Trump cultists? Speaking of which,

Donald Trump’s historic unpopularity has yet to harden into conventional wisdom, even as he’s trailed previous presidents in job approval at nearly every point in his administration. Instead, mainstream pundits and reporters focus on his relatively high marks with Republican voters, convinced that this gives insight into his political standing.

But, as centrist Democrats keep reminding us, it’s those swing voters you have to persuade. You might remember that the day after the 2016 election, the New York Times ran an analysis showing that Clinton truly lost in the election in the rust belt:

The red indicates biggest change from Democrat to Republican votes from 2012.

A whole lot of what had been considered reliable Democratic precincts went to Trump in 2016. The latest polls show us that support for Trump has eroded in those same areas, big-time.

In Michigan, where Trump won by 11,000 votes, 54 percent of registered voters disapprove of his performance, compared to 36 percent who approve. In Minnesota, where he narrowly lost, 51 percent currently disapprove, compared to 38 percent who approve. And in Wisconsin, a state he won by 23,000 votes, 52 percent disapprove, compared to 36 who approve.

By wide margins, voters in these states want a Democratic Congress. They want that Congress to act as a “check and balance” on Trump. Despite the growing economy, few give him credit for economic improvement, and looking ahead to 2020, nearly two-thirds in each state say it’s time to “give a new person a chance” in the White House.

The hard Trump support is unwavering. But the “soft” support, the voters who maybe weren’t crazy about him but were even less crazy about Hillary Clinton, are getting over Trump now. Unfortunately, major news media still play along with a meta message that Trump is wildly popular with his base and is therefore untouchable.

But let’s now review what else we knew, as of yesterday.

One, Bob Mueller is still investigating. We don’t know what he knows.

Two, the Southern District of New York has subpoenaed Allen Weisselberg, who has managed money for the Trump organization since Donald’s daddy was in charge of it. Weisselberg probably knows more about Trump’s money and where it came from than Trump does.

Three, the emoluments lawsuit is going forward, as of now, and unless Trump’s lawyers can stop it will almost certainly lead to more revelations about Trump’s money.

Four, the New York Attorney General also recently filed suit against the Donald Trump Foundation, “accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.”

Meanwhile, Dems are looking pretty good to take back the House in the midterms, at least.

Even through it feels as if these things are happening with excruciating slowness, they are happening. I predict that from here on out, events and revelations will slowly but surely grind Trump to bits.

Update: See also the Putin Factor. This opinion piece argues that the Russians will not hesitate to finish Trump off by releasing whatever it is they have on him if they decide he is no longer useful.

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And Then This Happened.

Trump Maladministration

Cohen claims Trump knew in advance of 2016 Trump Tower meeting

Apparently there are big questions about who leaked this information, and why. But it’s being widely reported.

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Closing In

Trump Maladministration

Yesterday a federal judge got to issue the first ever opinion on a particular constitutional matter.

In the first judicial opinion to define how the meaning of the Constitution’s anticorruption clauses should apply to a president, Judge Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court in Greenbelt, Md., said the framers’ language should be broadly construed as an effort to protect against influence-peddling by state and foreign governments.

He ruled that the lawsuit should proceed to the evidence-gathering stage, which could clear the way for an examination of financial records that the president has consistently refused to disclose. The Justice Department is expected to forestall that by seeking an emergency stay and appealing the ruling.

Greg Sargent wrote yesterday,

Two of the biggest stories in Washington right now — President Trump’s battle with lawyer Michael Cohen, and a federal judge’s decision to let a lawsuit alleging ongoing violations of the emoluments clause proceed — are both converging toward one endpoint. Both demonstrate the degree to which Trump places his personal interests before those of the American people, and both may shed light on that wretched reality in much more detail in coming days than Trump ever bargained for. …

… In that ruling, a federal judge denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., which alleges that Trump, whose businesses are regularly patronized by foreign officials, is violating the Constitution’s ban on officials accepting emoluments from foreign governments. The court rejected Trump’s effort to define “emoluments” very narrowly, and instead accepted the plaintiffs’ argument that they constitute “profit,” “gain” or “advantage,” i.e., the sort of profits that go to Trump’s businesses. This means the case now moves forward to determine whether Trump reaped such profit, gain or advantage from foreign governments.

In an interview with me, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is involved in the lawsuit, laid out the next steps: D.C. and Maryland will now seek discovery access to the financial records of Trump’s businesses — in particular, the hotel he owns in D.C. “We’re going to seek records to show what benefits and payments the president got, and that’s going to include extensive business and financial records,” Bookbinder said.

Of course, Trump’s lawyers right now must be looking for a Trump-friendly federal judge to issue a stay.

But if he fails, Bookbinder says, the discovery process could “prove that the president has been receiving payments,” demonstrating this in a new level of detail documenting “foreign officials staying at the Trump hotel,” which could in turn show that “the president is violating the constitution.”

There are all kinds of ways this could play out. The larger point is that Trump is now being squeezed on several sides — primarily by Bob Mueller, by the Southern District of New York’s Michael Cohen case, and now by this lawsuit. The New York Attorney General also recently filed suit against the Donald Trump Foundation, “accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.”

Hey Donald — there’s no where to run to and no where to hide. And you can’t get out of this with a bunch of counter-suits.

Update: New stuff happening —

WSJ: Trump Organization CFO Subpoenaed In Cohen Probe

Veteran senior Trump Organization official Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the criminal probe of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. …

…Weisselberg has worked at the Trump Organization since the 1970s, working his way up to become executive vice president and chief financial officer. He currently runs the business with Trump’s two adult sons. Weisselberg also served as the treasurer for the troubled Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was sued by the New York Attorney General for engaging in “repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests.”


Mueller Examining Trump’s Tweets in Wide-Ranging Obstruction Inquiry

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men — both key witnesses in the inquiry — about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry.

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Democracy Theater

Trump Maladministration

I’ve written in the past about managed democracy, which is a political system that is ostensibly a democracy but which is actually being controlled and managed by some sort of oligarchy. As part of that I wrote in May 2016 about the remarkable fact that our two major political parties had two massively unpopular front-runners in the presidential election:

What we’re seeing is a symptom of managed democracy, a term usually aimed at Vladimir Putin’s Russia but which, many argue, describes the United States.  In a paper about managed democracy in Russia, we find,

According to Tretyakov’s definition, managed democracy is a democracy (as there are elections, voters have alternative options, there is media freedom, leaders are changing), but it is corrected by the ruling class (or rather that part of it that holds power).

Put another way, this is why we can’t have nice things. We aren’t really in charge.

See also “They Aren’t Listening to Us” (May 2014) and “Rats and Lifeboats” (May 2017).

Today let me call your attention to “America’s Heart of Darkness” by Elizabeth Bruenig at the Washington Post. She writes that like the character Charles Marlow in Conrad’s novel, at least some Americans have seen the heart of darkness at the center of U.S. politics.

Marlow’s is a civic kind of going mad, where the veil is lifted from politics and what lies beneath makes participation in ordinary political life with a quiet mind impossible. By the time he returns, what once seemed placid and unremarkable seems sinister and false — and it is.

We’re about there, I think — perhaps not every single one of us, perhaps not just yet, but the conditions are right and the summer is long. The entire 2016 episode has been, in some sense, an introspective journey into America’s own innermost parts, with Donald Trump’s victory prompting a nervous self-inventory of what we value, whether our institutions work and to what degree we ought to trust one another. The full contents of that inward odyssey have yet to unfold. But on the question of institutional functioning, the news is unequivocally grim. Like Marlow, even after this particular chapter has ended, we are likely to find ourselves changed by what we’ve seen.

Whether national politics were ever really open and honest is a debatable point, of course. Before we went to a primary system, the old method of choosing presidential nominees at big, messy national conventions was often accused of being corrupt and undemocratic. Deals were made in smoke-filled rooms and, voilà, here’s your ticket. But we got some pretty good presidents out of those smoke-filled rooms. I’m old enough to remember watching those conventions on television, and in retrospect they seem more honest and transparent than what we’ve got now.

Bruenig writes (as I have written in the past) that we may never know if the Russians really did change the outcome of the election. And we still don’t know if Donald Trump was conciously aware of and complicit in the Russian interference. But those are secondary considerations.

The primary things are these: It just wasn’t that hard for a foreign power to tinker with our deliberative democratic process, which suggests that it just isn’t that hard, full stop, for anyone to tinker with our deliberative democratic process. And if Trump’s campaign played along, those who benefited when he won don’t really seem to mind. Republicans will issue all sorts of official-sounding tweets and news releases decrying the subversion of America’s hallowed institutions, but they’ve got their tax cuts and Supreme Court seats, and they’re not going to initiate impeachment proceedings or primary Trump come 2020. A neutral observer couldn’t be blamed for concluding that the rich and powerful people who contend for control of the country don’t much care how public offices wind up in their hands, so long as they do.

Donald Trump is an abomination. He’s a walking moral cesspool. He is clearly unfit for office. He’s safe, for now, because the elites find him useful. Because he is also a moron he probably doesn’t realize he’s just a tool. But he is.

And this is true across the board. Those emails the Russians loosed upon the electorate were damning precisely because they revealed a similar scheme operating in miniature during the Democratic primary campaign: The supposedly neutral DNC functioned as more or less a Clinton campaign organ, subsisting off Clinton campaign funds and musing behind the scenes about targeting then-primary contender Bernie Sanders for being a secular Jew, how best to discipline his campaign for complaining about the DNC’s partiality and, ironically, how to properly dispel the appearance of a DNC conspiracy against Sanders.

The gravity and legality of the two exercises in meddling differ, certainly. But they both operate to wound our faith in democratic legitimacy.

A lot of commenters to this article are sputtering about false equivalence. But of course I agree with Bruenig. Hillary Clinton’s nomination was a done deal months before the primaries started, a fact that has been publicly confirmed in many ways. What the Democrats did to railroad Clinton’s nomination makes the smoke-filled rooms at the old national conventions seem downright guileless and innocent.

In particular, it was ghastly to me the way that a generation of left-leaning voters was relentlessly punched down on for month after month because they refused to accept the decision of the powers that be, and to this day most of the progressive young folks I communicate with are, at best, massively ambivalent about the Democratic Party. They don’t like it much, and they don’t trust it, but most have accepted they have no alternative but to work through the Democrats to defeat Trumpism. A loud minority still refuse to have anything to do with Democrats, however.

So, damage was done. The sputterers need to realize and admit this. A big reason a lot of us who are Democratic voters are twitchy about “centrism” and “pragmatism” is that these are code words for accepting the manipulation. And let’s not kid ourselves that if Hillary Clinton were president now the government would be working for us. It would be less awful in many ways, yes, and we’d have gotten much better SCOTUS nominations. But anything we, the people might want that the elites don’t want to give us would still be off the table.

Mass media is complicit in all this, of course. News coverage helped Trump become acceptable as POTUS. They played him up because he was good for ratings. And then they normalized him. Television political coverage never goes deeper than the superficial and the sound bite, and most people get nearly all their information on candidates from television (or, worse, social media). The well-known information on Trump’s long history of dishonest business deals and ties to the mob were never explained to the American television news audience.

See an old Salon article from 2026, by Ted Morgan: “This isn’t how a democracy should work.”

Our news media, television in particular, work at two levels simultaneously. One level is cultural. This is where market-driven news accentuates its entertainment value, seeking to maximize audience or readership by grabbing attention with all the devices common to entertainment. News stories are brief, dramatic fragments; they accentuate eye-catching imagery, conflict, and personalities. They play on our emotions, but tell us almost nothing about why the world is the way it is.

The other level is ideological, or political.  This is where the mass media are corporate institutions that reflect the consensual and competing views of elites who dominate our politics.  This is where Democrats and Republicans “debate” political issues, where they tell us how to interpret the world.  It is definitely not where more fundamentally critical, or outsider, views are taken seriously.

News media set the parameters of allowable political thought, and that has become a very, very narrow range of thought. And as much as I do like to watch the nightly MSNBC lineup for the latest dirt on Trump, they’re in on it, too, at least as far as the Democrats are concerned.

So here we are. We have a monster for a president, and Washington collectively lacks the political will to admit it and remove him from office. Yesterday the cable shows were all playing a tape of Michael Cohen and Trump talking about how they would hush up an affair with a model. Watch this change nothing. Today there are headlines about how Trump plans to go forward with 25 percent tariffs on close to $200 billion in foreign-made automobiles, and “advisers” are scrambling to stop him.  But, bleep it, the Constitution gives Congress the power to determine tariffs, not the president. There is obviously no national security issue that justifies Trump’s tariff policy.

Where is Congress? Not only do they not remove him from office, they step aside and let him do whatever he wants, no matter how damaging it is. It may be that the only thing that will stop him is if the monied elites who actually run things decide he’s more trouble than he’s worth. Then something nasty will be slipped into Trump’s filet-o-fish sandwich, because Mike Pence is a model tool, a tool’s tool. A Disney animatronic president couldn’t be a more reliable tool.

I can remember earlier times, when our revered historical figures were presented as virtuous and wise. They were honest and kind and never told lies. And yeah, a lot of that amounted to glossing over a lot of flaws. But that was the ideal that we at least paid lip service to. With Trump, there are no ideals and no virtues, just endless sleaze.

Back to Bruenig.

This particular horror — Trump and his failures, whatever ridiculous thing he has said or done today, whatever international incident he causes on Twitter tomorrow, however authentic the next panic is — will pass. What will last is the frank revelation of a point that, while ugly and dark, is at least true: You really don’t have the choices you ought to in American democracy, because of decisions made without your consent by people of wealth and power behind closed doors. It’s possible to continue to participate in a democracy after that. But not with a quiet mind.

I hold on to a faint hope that American democracy can be reformed and given back to the people. Campaign finance reform, voting rights guarantees, ending political gerrymandering, and some other steps would do it, and those things are possible. At least, they aren’t like spinning straw into gold or walking on water. But it’s going to take a hell of a fight.

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Moving to the Left

Trump Maladministration

If pearl clutching were an Olympic event, American political pundits would own the podium. Over the past several days I’ve seen one op-ed after another warning Democrats to not move too far left and lose the midterms and 2020.

And it’s not just Democratic Party centrists. Paul Waldman writes today about the warnings coming from outside the party — James Comey, for example.

Paul Waldman:

What the concern trolls are advocating is that Democrats go back to being afraid of their own shadows the way they were for so long, convincing themselves that the American public is extremely conservative and if they don’t become more like Republicans then they have no hope of winning. It’s a belief shared by pretty much every losing Democratic presidential candidate for the last few decades; all of them radiated a sense of insecurity, apologizing for their beliefs and those of their party. It’s something Republicans never do.

My quibble with this is the assumption that Democrats ever stopped being afraid of their own shadows. When might that have been? It certainly wasn’t in 2016. Clinton was the ultimate “safe” candidate, from the perspective of the Democratic establishment. The only difference was that Clinton didn’t apologize for her beliefs; she simply failed to articulate any sort of vision or direction for the future of the country at all.

Matt Taibbi wrote a few days ago,

The notion that Democrats need to look and act more like Republicans to win elections has been practically a religious tenet in Washington for more than 30 years. From the embrace of NAFTA to welfare reform to triangulation to repealing the Glass-Steagall Act to slobbering over Wesley Clark (instead of opposing the Iraq war) to hiring infamous Republican media hitman David Brock, this soul-sucking drift has been sold to voters as an electorally necessary compromise. …

… This is the Democratic Party that lost the presidency in 2016 to a crypto-fascist game-show host with near-record negatives – only ex-Klansman David Duke in 1992 was a more roundly-despised candidate than Trump – and legislatively has for a decade now suffered mass losses on the national and state levels.

Here are some true words on the past several decades of politics in America, in a nutshell:

When the Democrats abandoned their reliance on labor in the Eighties, and began to be funded by the same big companies that backed Republicans, our politics devolved into a contest between two employer-supported factions. Neither really cared about the numerical majority of poor or working-class voters, so they had to get creative with their politics.

The Republican pitch was an open con: the CEO sect hoovering Middle American votes by trotting out xenophobic Bible-thumpers who waved the flag and pretended to love beer, chainsaws, snowmobiles and shooting foreigners, while mostly just deregulating the economy.

The Democratic pitch revolved around social issues like choice and was far less transparently fraudulent. But the party’s proponents had one bad habit that kept putting them in a hole. Repeatedly, when asked to make policy changes favored by sizable majorities of Democratic voters (and often by majorities of all voters), party leaders said: We can’t do that: we need to win!

Taibbi recalls, for example, when a majority of Democratic voters oppose the invasion of Iraq, but 29 Democratic senators voted to let Bush invade, anyway. That was an act of political cowardice that, ironically, hurt the political careers of the cowards more than it helped. Yes, John Kerry and, eventually, Hillary Clinton got Democratic presidential nominations, anyway; even so, those votes in October 2002 would haunt them the rest of their careers. They would have been better off, politically, listening to Democratic voters and voting “no.” I strongly suspect that if Kerry had voted “no” in 2002 he’d have beaten Bush in 2004.

David Atkins writes,

This week has seen a bonanza of concern trolling by centrist factions against the energy and activism coming from the left. The shocking election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th district was followed by the California Democratic Party’s endorsement of progressive challenger Kevin De Leon over longtime incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein. These two events have precipitated a frightened backlash among editorial boards, corporate think tanks like Third Way, and even public figures like James Comey and William Saletan who believe that the movement toward a bolder progressive agenda is bad for the country, heralding doom for Democrats in the midterms and in red districts.

The argument goes that if Democrats move too far to the left, then they won’t hold onto “the center” which presumably contains the majority of Americans. But this worldview stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the electorate, particularly the few remaining persuadable voters in it. It also represents a failure to grasp the reality of the movement, which is not so much about right and left, as it is about solving problems that the centrists in both parties have studiously ignored or avoided.

What about those “centrist” voters?

There are many kinds of cross-pressured voters. Some are the handful of vaunted fiscally conservative, socially liberal suburban centrists the Third Way puts on a pedestal. Some hate abortion but want higher taxes on the rich; some want low taxes but want to preserve a woman’s right to choose. These people are not more moderate than partisans, but rather have strong opinions on certain issues that force them to make a choice between two sides they like in some respects and dislike in others. A party typically loses as many of these cross-pressured voters as it gains by moderating its stances, which is part of why Republicans haven’t suffered from their march rightward.

But far more numerous are the disaffecteds who feel that neither party listens to their concerns or solves their problems. They are attracted to blunt-talking populists who promise to shake up a system that they believe is rigged and tilted toward the elites. This is why Trump did so well with right-leaning independents, and why Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama both performed so well with left-leaning independents. Many white independents who vote for both Democrats and Republicans tend to have prejudiced views on race and gender, but are willing to vote for Democrats and people of color because their economic concerns often outweigh their bigotries if their kitchen table issues are addressed in the right way.

In other words, listen to your voters, Dems.

It is very hard to argue that incremental centrism is the answer. On the contrary, most of these voters are desperate for solutions to problems that they believe both parties have ignored. What are these problems? In no particular order, we can name a few crises:

student debt crisis that threatens to destroy the future of an entire generation; a climate change crisis that could end civilization as we know it if bold action is not taken immediately; a housing crisis that is preventing young people in cities from building savings or wealth, or even living with dignity and being able to afford children; an automation crisis that has most Silicon Valley billionaires simply assuming the end of capitalism and promoting radical socialist policies just to keep the pitchforks at bay; an inequality crisis that will certainly destroy democracy itself if left unaddressed–not just by bringing up standards of living at the bottom and in the middle, but by actively bringing down and redistributing the wealth at the top; and so on.

And health care? Commiting to not cutting social security? A living wage for everyone with a full-time job? I sincerely believe taking a strong stand on these issues would bring a substantial number of the infamous white working-class voter into the Democratic fold, even those living in Trump country.

There’s an article I’ve been wanting to call attention to at Washington Monthly — “Winning Is Not Enough” by Paul Glastris. Why isn’t it enough? Glastris makes the case that Dems have a pattern of winning Congress and/or the White House when people get really fed up with Republicans, only to see that victory snatched away in the next election cycle. The Democrats need to think beyond taking back power; they also need to think about keeping it. They must do this because the Republican Party plainly has become undemocratic and is working to undermine the very supports of liberal democracy, to turn the U.S. into an authoritarian regime.

The dilemma for Democrats is that many of the issues that resonate with their base—gun control, racial justice, support for immigrants—hurt them in exurban and rural areas. That leads many moderates to advise downplaying “identity politics.” The problem with that advice is that, besides being wrong on principle, following it would risk alienating the base voters whose votes are crucial to winning.

How, then, do Democrats square that circle?

The answer is twofold. To maximize the voting power of its core supporters, the party must get over its squeamishness and aggressively push policies designed to raise turnout among young people and minorities. At the same time, to expand its geographic reach, it needs to introduce new ideas into its agenda that appeal both to the base and to rural and working-class whites, or at least to the persuadable among them, such as the millions who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.

Fortunately, if Democrats do take back at least one house of Congress in November (and I’m well aware that this is far from guaranteed), they will have a powerful platform from which to formulate new ideas. The question is whether they will use that power shrewdly. The future of American democracy may ride on the answer.

And my fear is, even if Dems take back Congress in November they’ll do nothing in particular except issue a few platitudes about how “now is not the time” to do blah blah blah, and Republicans will win in 2020.

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The Carter Page FISA Application Dump

Trump Maladministration

The FBI released a redacted copy of the initial FISA application to conduct sureillance on Carter Page. What does it show us? For one thing, it shows us that Devin Nunes is a liar. ‘

This is from Lawfare:

Now we have some additional information in the form of the redacted FISA applications themselves, and the Nunes memo looks even worse. In my earlier post, I observed that the FBI’s disclosures about Steele were contained in a footnote, but argued that this did not detract from their sufficiency: “As someone who has read and approved many FISA applications and dealt extensively with the FISA Court, I will anticipate and reject a claim that the disclosure was somehow insufficient because it appeared in a footnote; in my experience, the court reads the footnotes.” Now we can see that the footnote disclosing Steele’s possible bias takes up more than a full page in the applications, so there is literally no way the FISA Court could have missed it. The FBI gave the court enough information to evaluate Steele’s credibility.

It is clear that the FBI had all kinds of reasons to think Carter Page was working for the Russian government.

Trump, of course, is claiming that the application vindicates him, which it does not. He probably doesn’t understand any of this. The man is as dumb as a sock.  But the GOP, of course, has a vested interest in keeping its base bamboozled, so they’re all on the bobblehead shows repeating the same old lies.

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Michael Cohen’s Tapes

Trump Maladministration

I wasn’t going to mention Michael Cohen’s tape of Trump discussing paying off a Playboy model, because, I mean, we know Trump is a dog. And it will make no difference to his base. There’s a chance the payment violated campaign finance law, of course. The most interesting part about it is that it involves the guy who owns American Media/the National Enquirer. The world would be a better place without the National Enquirer.

The real significance is that this is just the beginning. Manafort’s first trial is about to begin. There will be more trials. There will be a steady drip of revelations from now on. Charles Pierce:

My guess is that Cohen has tapes of everything. (If he’s smart, he does, anyway.) There will be a flood of them, sooner or later. I’ll let the legal ethics wonks parse out exactly how badly Cohen has blown up the canons of ethics. I suspect his law license is as far down his list of priorities now as it was when he was running clean-up errands. But he’s the first member of the inner circle to put a bargaining chip on the table. There will be other chips from other people. This is far from the last deal to go down.


If I’m the president*’s actual lawyers, I’m begging Rudy to stop helping now.

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Is U.S. Intelligence Treating Trump Like a Foreign Spy?

Trump Maladministration

In Charles Pierce’s words, last night “The New York Times took a 40-pound dunghammer to everything the president* has said on the subject of Russian ratfcking since election night in November of 2016 and left nothing but rubble behind.”

From the NY Times:

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.

About the top-secret source close to Putin:

Ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role. That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified. Instead, to keep the information from being shared widely, Mr. Brennan sent reports from the source to Mr. Obama and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security.

And the next question is, why make this public now? The answer is, as Kevin Drum says, it’s likely Trump burned those sources a long time ago.

The American intelligence community has been on edge over Trump practically from the start. But after Helsinki their hair must be on fire. This is basically a declaration of war against Trump, a public accusation that he’s known all along Putin ordered the election interference. One way or another, this is not going to end well.

Some people are alarmed.

Roll Call noted that the president’s intelligence briefings somehow dropped off the White House schedule for a couple of days.

For the second consecutive day since he broke with America’s spy agencies over Russia’s election meddling, President Donald Trump on Wednesday will not get an intelligence briefing.

The daily presidential guidance email sent out each evening by the White House initially featured only one item, an 11:30 a.m. Cabinet meeting. It was was updated Wednesday morning to include a 2 p.m. press briefing with Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump’s public schedule typically begins with a late-morning intelligence briefing in the Oval Office after his “executive time” in the White House residence, during which he tweets while watching cable news. He also uses that time to call lawmakers and friends, aides say.

The official guidance for Tuesday also did not include an intelligence briefing. Those sessions typically include senior intelligence leaders briefing Trump — and previous commanders in chief — on the top threats and developments from around the world, which can change in important ways from day to day.

There is an intelligence briefing on his schedule for today, and maybe there is an innocent explanation for the skipped briefings. But at this point it’s hard to believe anything can be innocent about the Trump White House.

Oh, and the punch line? House GOP refuses to renew election security funding as Democrats fume over Russian interference. Seriously. See also House Republicans defeat attempt to subpoena Trump interpreter.

Also, Washington is still trying to figure out what “agreements” were made at the surrender summit.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters in Moscow yesterday that “important verbal agreements” were reached on a series of national security issues when the two leaders met one-on-one in Helsinki for more than two hours, joined only by translators. He mentioned the preservation of the New Start and INF arms control treaties and said Putin made “specific and interesting proposals” related to Syria.

“But officials at the most senior levels across the U.S. military … had little to no information Wednesday,”Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan and Anton Troianovski report. “At the Pentagon, as press officers remained unable to answer media questions about how the summit might impact the military, the paucity of information exposed an awkward gap in internal administration communications. … Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did not attend Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting with Trump and has not appeared in public this week or commented on the summit. …

The uncertainty surrounding Moscow’s suggestion of some sort of new arrangement or proposal regarding Syria, in particular, was striking because Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, is scheduled to brief reporters on Syria and other matters Thursday. … Nonmilitary officials who were provided minimal, indirect readouts expressed confidence that no agreement had been struck with Putin on Syria, and that Trump — who early this year expressed a desire to withdraw all U.S. troops from that country — made clear to Putin that no American departure was imminent.

We’ll see. I want to link to a post written by Marcy Wheeler before the surrender summit.  “I believe Trump is cornered — has allowed himself to be cornered. And in spite of everything, Trump is prepared to go alone into a meeting on Monday with Vladimir Putin — the guy wielding both carrots and sticks against Trump — and make a deal.” And that deal probably involves Syria and Trump stepping aside to allow Russia to compromise U.S. intelligence. See also “At Helsinki Summit, Putin Re-enacts the June 9 Trump Tower Meeting.”

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Trump’s Retreat

Trump Maladministration

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, 1812

The full route may take a few more months, but I think it’s finally begun. Even the staid Business Insider is reporting that Trump is a “controlled spy.”

By now it’s clear that Trump was utterly gobsmacked by the reaction to the “surrender summit.” He probably still doesn’t understand what he did wrong. But he seems to think he fixed everything with his non-correcting correction yesterday, not noticing that nobody but his most besotted followers believed him. It certainly hasn’t stopped the criticism and speculation that Trump is working for Putin.

The Financial Times, also not exactly a left-wing rag:

Senior Republicans need now to step out of the shadow of Mr Trump — and remember their party’s honourable role in crafting the bipartisan foreign policy that saw the US through the cold war. The party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan should recoil at President Trump’s behaviour in Helsinki. It needs to rediscover its soul, before it is too late.

The Financial Times op ed is headlined “Trump, Putin and the betrayal of America.” Do read the whole thing.

Today, Captain Oblivious has gone back to bragging about his great success in Moscow. But now Moscow is sending out press releases about a “military agreement” reached in Helsinki. Say what?

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. …

… “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.

Since nobody but Trump, Putin and the interpreters know what was said in the closed-door summit, nobody has any idea what the Russians are talking about. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wants the U.S. translator to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on what was said. Any senator who doesn’t support that proposal is a Russian tool, just like Trump. And Roy Blunt.

“Um…,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, pausing when asked if he wants to know what Trump said in the meeting. “I don’t understand the value of that two-hour meeting, but that’s the president’s decision to make not mine.”

You’re a senator, Senator. The Constitution says you have something to say about the president’s conduct of foreign policy. Remember?

Blunt, Devin Nunes, and some other obvious tools to the contrary, it’s clear the GOP establishment is shaken to its core by what happened in Helsinki. They may be more reluctant to cover Trump’s ass going forward.

Speaking of bare asses — A judge denied Paul Manafort’s request for a change of venue. More interesting, yesterday Bob Mueller asked a judge to grant immunity to five potential witnesses against Manafort so that they can’t plead the Fifth.

Manafort’s trial starts next week.

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The Fruits of GOP Health Care in Missouri

Trump Maladministration

Missouri is one of the states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and as a result its smaller rural hospitals are closing. The New York Times has a story about a woman, pregnant with twins, who went into early labor and suffered a four-hour road trip to get to a hospital that would accept her as a patient.

The hospital that had been nearly around the corner from her house had just closed. An emergency room 20 or so minutes away (on bumpy country roads, while the mother was in active labor) wouldn’t accept her because they weren’t set up for obstetric emergencies, apparently. The emergency room called for an ambulance, which arrived 25 minutes later, to take the mother to a medical center in Cape Girardeau, nearly 80 miles away. Fortunately, the twins were healthy after being delivered by c-section. But the mother ended up traveling about 100 miles to get to an obstetrician, bouncing around in car and ambulance while in active labor. Those of us who have given birth can appreciate what she went through.

I notice many commenters to the story criticize the mother for having children. Sorry; having babies is a basic human thing to do. The troglodytes want to simultaneously deprive women of a right to have babies and a right to abortion at the same time, it seems. Poor pregnant women must seem terribly inconvenient to them. And many commenters blamed her for voting for Trump. But the mother in the story is African American, which suggests to me a low probability that she was a Trump voter.

At some point, instead of blaming people for getting on with their lives in spite of dysfunctional government, we need to blame dysfunctional government. Indeed, we may need to do some basic rethinking about what government is for.  We seem to have forgotten something.

Small hospitals in poor rural areas live or die by Medicaid, so states that didn’t accept the federal Medicaid expansion killed their own hospitals. See, for example, “Lack of Medicaid expansion played part in Fulton hospital closing” in the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, July 27, 2017.

When the owners of Fulton Medical Center announced Monday they would close the hospital because of mounting losses from uncompensated care and low patient numbers, they did not say it was because Missouri didn’t expand Medicaid.

They didn’t have to. The mayor of Fulton said it for them.

“That was one of the things they were hanging their hat onto to stop the bleeding and of course, that did not happen,” Mayor LeRoy Benton said.

The hospital lost $1 million between January and May, prompting University of Missouri HealthCare to put its minority stake up for sale and NueHealth on Monday to set Sept. 22 as the closing date. It will be the fourth rural hospital to close since advocates for Medicaid expansion began predicting that outcome if the state did not accept federal help to expand coverage for poor adults.

Now nursing homes are facing similar pressures. The uncertainty of federal health care policy as Congress debates repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid cuts, combined with cuts in state payments and a higher threshold to receive services, are straining the budgets of residential care facilities, said Nikki Strong, executive vice president of the Missouri Healthcare Association.

“We are looking at job losses all across the state,” Strong said. “Facilities have nowhere left to cut because they are currently underfunded. We are probably going to look at facility closures.”

The Fulton hospital was bought and saved at the last minute, but other hospitals around the state have closed, including the Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center that was a few minutes from the pregnant woman’s home.

Missouri has had a right-wing legislature for many years, and most recently they’ve been actively engaged in what I call the Kansas Two-Step:

One, cut taxes, especially for corporations, to attract job growth.

Two, cut essential services and education to make up the budget shortfall that inevitably follows, especially when the job growth doesn’t materialize.

The other essential functions of the legislature include thinking up damnfool ways to limit access to abortions while passing whatever “gun rights” bill the NRA is promoting. Oh, and protecting the rights of puppy mill owners. And that’s about it, as far as I can see.

But my next question is, why are obstetric services in particular hurt by hospital closing? Why wouldn’t an emergency room be prepared to deliver babies, even by c-section? The NY Times article doesn’t say, but I suspect the problem is that private for-profit insurance really does not like covering obstetric care and won’t unless forced to. Without some kind of mandate to cover it, pregnancy and maternity services are among the first considered “nonessential” and dropped by insurers. Apparently there’s no profit to be made from human gestation. Facilities that are mostly dependent on private insurance reimbursement may want to minimize the obstetric services they provide.

You’d think the allegedly pro-life state government would care about lowering Missouri’s above-average infant mortality rate, but I guess not.

You might remember we recently had a sudden change in the governor’s office. The new governor is Republican Mike Parsons. Here are some recent stories about him.

Parsons Signs Income Tax Cut.

Parsons Vetoed Program for Stroke and Heart Attack Victims.

Parson signs budget that blocks funding to Missouri Planned Parenthood clinics.

The Kansas Two-Step continues.

On a national level, of course, the Republican Party spent the entire Obama Administration claiming they had a better way to fund health care. Paul Ryan in particular had some nice talking points about “patient-centered health care” which, according to the details, basically meant getting government out of the way so that private insurers could make bigger profits by not paying for health care. But as we all remember when a Republican majority House and Senate had a clear path to passing any health care bill their black little hearts desired, they failed.

And, of course, who can forget this fool:

So many great options, he said. All of them involve weakening the Affordable Care Act without replacing it with anything. I notice he’s not talking about health care any more. On to bigger disasters!

I’m finally seeing some ads from Josh Hawley, the Republican running against Claire McCaskill. I’ve seen this one over and over and over —

OMG, we can’t have libruhls in charge of anything! That’s not Missouri’s way! Missouri’s way is to make a laboring woman suffer a four-hour trip to get to a hospital! Because we’re cutting back on health servvices! But rich people get tax cuts and we keep those puppy mills open!

The state is doomed.

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