Breaking News: We Are In Uncharted Territory

Yesterday I wrote this:

While I cannot prove it, it is logical to reason that this information was provided to the McClatchy reporters so that it would be reported before the inauguration on Friday. By getting the information out now, the purpose of the reporting is to make it much more difficult for the incoming Administration to shut this investigation down or to interfere in how it is conducted.

For good, bad, or otherwise this is not going away. And the President-elect and his team seem unwilling to even try to provide reasonable explanations to knock the suspicions back. The longer this drags out the worse it will be. For all of us.

The New York Times has now reported:

WASHINGTON — American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.

And:

The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.

And (emphasis added by me):

The decision to open the investigations was not based on a dossier of salacious, uncorroborated allegations that were compiled by a former British spy working for a Washington research firm. The F.B.I. is also examining the allegations in that dossier, and a summary of its contents was provided to Mr. Trump earlier this month.

Representatives of the agencies involved declined to comment. Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.

As Ambassador (ret) McFaul stated:

The New York Times’ reporting now confirms not just yesterday’s reporting by McClatchy, but also some of Heat Street‘s reporting on this from last November.

As I’ve written several times: we are off the looking glass and through the map. We have never had a President sworn into office when he and his team are facing two investigations. One from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the other a counter-intelligence investigation conducted by the US Intelligence Community. It also gives credence to Congressman Elijah Cummings’, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, statements yesterday.

 



Wayne Barrett, July 11, 1945 – January 19, 2017: Rest in Peace

Wayne Barrett, the long time reporter for the Village Voice and one of the first biographers of the President-elect has died at the age of 71. Barrett had been in ill health throughout the 2016 election season, but continued reporting and providing analysis for as long as he was able to.

From his obituary at the NY Times:

Wayne Barrett, the muckraking Village Voice columnist who carved out a four-decade career taking on developers, landlords and politicians, among them Donald J. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 71.

His wife, Fran Barrett, said the cause was complications of lung cancer and interstitial lung disease.

A 1992 book, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall,” was, as Mr. Barrett acknowledged, a flop at first. Thanks to his subject’s improbable political ascent 25 years later, it was successfully republished and expanded in 2016 as “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention.”

Mr. Barrett’s voluminous background files from the Trump biography, and his professional courtesy, made his Brooklyn home a mecca for investigative reporters during the recent presidential campaign.

“There may be no journalist in the nation who knows more about Trump than Barrett,” Jennifer Gonnerman wrote in The New Yorker just after the election.

“He took Trump seriously long before anyone else did,” Mr. O’Brien, who is now executive editor of Bloomberg View, said, “and most of the work that followed Wayne’s was built upon his insights.”

Here’s a link to his Twitter feed, which includes links to much of his election year analysis of the President-elect.



Make It Stop! (Open Thread)

My dogs hate ice cream trucks. They cannot abide the tinkling, high-pitched songs played over the loudspeakers. As pups, they used to howl, but now they just frown. (Sometimes we howl when the ice cream truck is near to try to get the dogs to join in, but it never works.)

Daisy Mayhem, pictured above, was never a patient creature. But now that she’s becoming a grizzled old dog, she has a very short fuse. Yesterday evening, I thought she was going to fling herself over the fence, find that truck and sink her fangs into its tape deck (I imagine it is an old, shitty tape deck to match the old, shitty vehicle).

Anyhoo, I recognize that look in her eyes. I’ve seen it in the mirror. Make. It. Stop.

Captain Obvious observation: there’s much hypocritical conservative butt-hurt across the land over insinuations that Trump isn’t legitimate, isn’t a good person or that his upcoming Ultimate Ego Gratification Event (UEGE) should be boycotted. Even 1970s crooner Tony Orlando got in on the act!

I’m afraid the SS “Embarrassing to the World” sailed 11/9, Mr. Orlando, so tie a yellow ribbon ’round your big fat yap. Orlando is performing at one of the inaugural balls sans backup singers, so there will be no opportunity for Der Gropenfuhrer to be found fumbling at the crack of Dawn (yes, I went there…sorry).

WaPo has an article up about the blow-back groups and individuals are getting for attending the UEGE — including the Girl Scouts. From quotes in that piece and exchanges I’ve seen elsewhere, it seems the reaction of non-Trump supporters to the UEGE falls into at least two categories: those who view participation as validation of the “peaceful transfer of power” and those who see it as normalizing Trump.

Personally, I see it as the latter, and I wish each and every Democrat and/or person who values decency and American self-determination would decline to participate in or watch the proceedings. But I’m not going to harsh on people who feel obligated to attend, such as the Clintons. Sitting through that travesty will be hell enough.

While reading the article, I was struck by the comment of a talk radio host and parent who objected to an email sent by his kid’s teacher, in which the teacher conveyed his decision to allow the class to watch the swearing-in on TV but not the speech:

Radio host Steve Gruber took issue with the email, telling the Free Press, “He has an opportunity to demonstrate that even when you lose, you come together for peaceful transfer of power. The message to 10-year-olds in his class is that the president is a bad man, and that’s not acceptable.”

I remember being angry when a Sarah Palin knock-off on our local school board refused to allow public schools in my district to air an address to the kids from President Obama because socialism! But the thing is, Mr. Gruber, Trump is a bad man. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Hypocrisy sets a bad example for the children.

Open thread!



Guest Post From Cheryl Rofer: The Department of Energy, What Does it Do? 🤔

(Not Cheryl Rofer!)

Fails Dancing With The Stars, Wins Nuke Prize

by Cheryl Rofer

According to the New York Times, Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, presidential aspirant, and now Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Energy, um, didn’t know what the Department of Energy does when he accepted Trump’s nomination. “Sure I’ll be Ambassador for Oil and Gas,” he said. Twitter is meeting this revelation with humor and “We’re all going to die.”

In a better world, like the one we’ve been living in the past eight years, Cabinet secretaries actually know something about the organizations they are leading. It’s time to disrupt that fusty idea. We have Betsy DeVos, who wants to eliminate public education, as Education Secretary, a fast-food executive as Labor Secretary, and so on. Rick Perry has advocated eliminating the Department of Energy, so he was the natural pick.

Does that mean we are all going to die? That’s not so much the purview of the Energy Secretary. The President has a military guy who carries around the “football,” which is the most immediate starter of nuclear wars. As far as policy goes, the Secretaries of State and Defense have much more to say about starting wars nuclear and conventional. And, surprisingly for this administration, they actually seem to have responsible views on nuclear weapons. Here are excerpts from James Mattis’s and Rex Tillerson’s testimony to Congress. They are quite different from what Donald Trump has tweeted, and much more like the policies that Obama has followed.

Mattis almost says something that the arms control community has wanted to hear from the president:

the role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”

Change that to

the only role of nuclear weapons is “[t]o deter nuclear war and to serve as last resort weapons of self-defense.”

and a lot of arms-controllers would be very happy.

The Secretary of Energy is in charge of building and maintaining nuclear weapons, so there is some concern about accidents and such, but fortunately it will not be Rick Perry handling the wrenches or working the gloveboxes. A big downside of someone like Perry is that there is no way he can play the role Ernie Moniz did in developing the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Now the question is how much influence Mattis and Tillerson will have on their boss.



Shaping the Operational Environment: McClatchy Reports that the US Intelligence Community is Investigating Ties Between the Trump Campaign and Russia

Among all the other news, big, medium, and small was this important report:

McClatchy has reported that:

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

And:

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

 

ETA: I want to emphasize something important I failed to above or below in the original post: this probe started months before anyone in the US Intel Community new anything about the oppo research documents that were leaked last week:

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

(we now return you to the original post)

While I cannot prove it, it is logical to reason that this information was provided to the McClatchy reporters so that it would be reported before the inauguration on Friday. By getting the information out now, the purpose of the reporting is to make it much more difficult for the incoming Administration to shut this investigation down or to interfere in how it is conducted.

For good, bad, or otherwise this is not going away. And the President-elect and his team seem unwilling to even try to provide reasonable explanations to knock the suspicions back. The longer this drags out the worse it will be. For all of us.

As I wrote last week before the President-elect’s press conference:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.



President Obama’s Final Press Conference: Live Feed



A Final Thought on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on MLK Day 2017

While a number of people, both here and other places, have written moving thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I wanted to highlight something we are aware of, but don’t think of enough: the anger that his actions generated. It was almost Newtonian – each action generated an equal and opposite reaction.

(Figure 1: Letter from J. Edgar Hoover, written anonymously, to MLK, Jr.)

(Figure 2: Hate mail sent to MLK, Jr.)

(Figure 3: Hate mail sent to MLK, Jr.)

These are just a sample. And it is important to remember the letter in Figure 1, believed to have been sent by J. Edgar Hoover, was an attempt to drive Dr. King to suicide. Dr. King’s movement, which eventually led to long overdue, long denied progress in the US wasn’t just opposed vehemently at the time, but led to immediate attempts to push it back. His efforts, and those that worked with him and supported him, and the progress they made is just one example of the fitful progress that is made in the US. Every time, from the first founding and the Articles of Confederation to the second founding and the Constitution and Bill of Rights to the post Civil War amendments to the New Deal to the Civil Rights era and the Great Society and to the achievements of the last 8 years, progress has been met with this same Newtonian response. Anger and obstruction while the progress is occurring and an immediate attempt, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to roll it back.

I know a lot of the readers and commenters here are on edge. Once again we are in unsettled times, this has begun to dawn on even a lot of people that voted for the President-elect as his inauguration approaches. And I know many are looking for or thinking about what to do. I can’t answer that, but I can say that whatever strategies arise, and there will likely be more than one, it is important to remember that they are often not what they seem. While Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence has been codified and commented on, it is important to remember that part of the reason he arrived at this strategy was concern. Concern for the African Americans that would have to survive the backlash and pushback that would be concurrent with his movement’s actions and push for progress on Civil Rights. Even as he was willing to risk his own life, part of his strategic focus and concern was for those who did not have the time, the money, the resources, and the wherewithal to engage in the active portion of his movement. He understood that no progress in the US came without a steep price and an immediate opposite reaction. As a result, his concern for their wellbeing, for what violence could be done to them in an attempt to pressure him to stop, went into his strategic calculus. The movement he led was unable to fully safeguard them, just as, at the end, it was unable to safeguard him.

As the clock ticks and MLK Day turns to the first day of a shortened work week that ends with a Presidential inauguration, remember that progress isn’t always made by the spectacular works of elites and notables, but by the slow, steady, and often routine work of everyone. And remember that whatever strategies you choose to follow as the US moves into new and uncharted territory should include Dr. King’s strategic calculus.