Russiagate Open Thread: Watching the “Detectives”, Nunes Edition

“Nut job” has clung to Nunes’s reputation as long as he’s been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI, in Washington-speak). Or at least among Democrats (and some Republicans) who have decried Nunes’s transformation of a once bipartisan national security panel into a GOP platform to attack Democrats.

Janz thinks he knows why: Nunes’s mentorship by Michael Flynn, the now disgraced former Trump national security adviser. “I know that they had a pretty close relationship,” he said. Nunes served on the executive committee of the Trump transition team with Flynn, he noted, which was headed by Vice President Mike Pence, “and it seems to me like he never left. He’s still on that team.“

A descendent of Portuguese Azorean immigrants, Nunes grew up on a Central Valley, California farm and concentrated on water issues when he came to Congress in 2003. But his fundraising prowess for fellow Republicans endeared him to Representative Paul Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner, who in 2013 anointed him chairman of the intelligence panel.

Like many hawks back then, Nunes was in awe of Flynn, who had won praise for revolutionizing the hunt for terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This guy was one of the best intelligence officers in several generations,” Nunes told me in a December 23, 2016 interview. “I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but Flynn is extremely smart. He really is top notch.”

Nunes was speaking fives months after Flynn had startled many former military officers by leading “Lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention. It was also two years after the Obama White House has forced Flynn’s resignation as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “What happened,” Nunes told me, “is…he went out and said a lot of things that Obama didn’t like…”

But that’s not close to the full story on Flynn, whose battlefield talents didn’t transfer well to running the DIA from 2012 to 2014. Not only were his executive skills lacking, according to many observers, including former Army general and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he quickly developed a reputation for indulging in conspiracy theories—or “Flynn facts,” his aides derisively called them.

But Nunes embraced them. During Flynn’s tenure, the neophyte intelligence overseer and the general came to share a number of beliefs. One was that the CIA was suppressing the release of documents captured from Osama Bin Laden’s lair that supposedly showed a closer relationship between Al-Qaeda and Iran than the Obama White House, then conducting backchannel talks with Tehran on halting its nuclear weapons program, wanted known. Nunes, according to a then-close observer, demanded the CIA open up its files for him and Flynn one Saturday. “He was going to sneak up on them” on a weekend, the source snorted, speaking on terms of anonymity to discuss the sensitive incident. Nunes denied that excursion, but said he did go down to Central Command headquarters in Tampa “to meet with the team that was doing exploitation of the documents in 2013.”…
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Interesting Read (… Between the Lines): ‘John Kelly is the man Fred Trump always wanted Donald Trump to be’

Given this was published in Politico, seems like somebody wants Kelly gone, soonest:

President Donald Trump stirs up so many problems on a daily basis that his chief of staff, John Kelly, has come to define his success in terms of his ability to solve them. “If we end the day in neutral,” Kelly has told close associates on several occasions, “it’s a good day.”…

Thursday seemed to offer a case study of the challenges confronting Kelly — and it illustrates why he has come to adopt a largely defensive approach to his job. The day began with the president tweeting his opposition to the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — a measure his own party was trying to push through Congress. It ended with a report that, in a closed-door meeting on immigration, he had demanded to know why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries.”

“In the chief-of-staff job, you juggle the balls that you have to. But normally, you know what those balls are. Now, you have a president who keeps throwing new balls, so [Kelly] is constantly having to rejuggle,” said Leon Panetta, President Bill Clinton’s onetime chief of staff.

The White House disputed the notion that Kelly blamed himself for the president’s remarks, and said that every day the American people go to bed safe is a good day.

But Kelly’s mind-set, reported by POLITICO for the first time, is a testament to how Trump has transformed not only the presidency but the role of presidential chief of staff. Often described as the second most-powerful position in government, the job has previously demanded a deep understanding of politics and policy. Presidential No. 2s have worked to ration their bosses’ time and to help them prioritize in order to push their agendas forward; Kelly more often tries to keep Trump occupied and at arm’s length from the levers of power and the workings of government.

He’s baby-sitting a giant toddler, wadya expect?

His attitude is not entirely unprecedented. Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, Jack Watson, referred to the chief of staff as the “javelin catcher” — though in his analogy, the javelins were heading toward, rather than coming from, the president. At the same time, some are raising concerns that Kelly, whose military background gives him a discrete Washington toolkit, is trying to do too much…

Current and former colleagues say that even as Kelly has taken greater control over legislative affairs — in late December, he announced that the administration’s congressional liaison, Marc Short, would report directly to him — he has a dim view of lawmakers, sometimes referring to them as “a bunch of idiots,” according to two White House aides. He also has expressed frustration with the pace at which legislation moves through Congress.
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Monday Evening Open Thread: Somebody Burning Copies of Fire & Fury?

For once, the NYC Trump Tower tenants may have reason to be grateful to Trump — or, more correctly, Trump’s Secret Service detail. I went through a “routine” rooftop equipment-related “smoke event” some twenty years ago, when I was working in Boston’s Hancock Tower. Being rushed down sixty flights in the underlit emergency stairwell, while security guards ran up & down yelling at us and each other, is not one of my favorite life memories. Sounds like the SecServ guys alerted firefighters before the building had to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, smart review from Michael Hiltzik, at the LA Times — “I knew everything in Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ even before it was published. Here’s how”:

[T]he proper way to think about “Fire and Fury” is not as a book, but as an event. The vast majority of people discussing it over the next few weeks — assuming the furor lasts that long — will not have read it. When the Sunday cable talk shows went into full cry over it, they focused largely on the West Wing’s reaction to it…

But having done the reading homework myself, I can tell you that the first 30% of “Fire and Fury” is an engaging read, full of little frissons of revelation. It’s not badly written, though portions show the effects of hasty editing to meet a deadline.

After the first third, however, it becomes boring, repetitious and, ultimately, depressing. There just isn’t much for Wolff to say about the White House after he’s said it once, and the discouraging thought that his cast of characters are in place because of a quirk of the American presidential electoral system that surprised them as much as it shocked outsiders soon outweighs any pleasure one might get from watching them bite each others’ heads off…

Wolff identifies the principal camps during his time as a fly on the wall as those of Bannon; first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner; and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who was replaced by John F. Kelly at the end of July. This started to be widely known even before inauguration day.

But Wolff may actually have made a signal contribution to Trumpology here by making clear how much each gang leaked to undermine the others. Despite the obligatory paragraphs in all those inside-the-West-Wing scoops in the big papers about how many sources they were based on (how many people work in the White House, anyway?), it appears from Wolff’s book that those stories really all emanate from the power jockeying among those three groups; sometimes it’s one camp leaking against the other two, sometimes two camps in temporary alliance against the third.

This just tells you that the correct rule of thumb to apply when reading any of these yarns is the Latin term “Cui bono?” (“Who gains?”)…

That being said, Cui bono from the agenda for the evening?

….Aaaaaannnnnnnnd, Scene!


There is nothing to add; perfection needs no sauce.

Open thread, y’all.

Open Thread: Michael Wolff, Luckiest Fameball of 2018

True, the year is yet young. But Wolff has already made his mark on the calendar highlights reel — in much the same way, his critics would say, as a little dog leaves his mark on the leg of the couch — and that seems to be pretty much what Wolff lives for. A description by Michelle Cottle, for TNR, back in 2004:

It’s difficult for non-New Yorkers to fully grasp the Michael Wolff phenomenon. In the most literal terms, Wolff, from 1998 until he decamped for Vanity Fair this winter, wrote the weekly “This Media Life” column for New York magazine, spinning out stylish, pointed observations on everything from Viacom’s power struggles to Rupert Murdoch’s love life. From the start, Wolff was adamant about being neither a media reporter (working the phones isn’t really his style) nor a media critic (“that dour schoolmarm figure”). Instead, he put himself at the center of the story, giving readers a first-person glimpse of the inner workings of the media biz as it happened to, and all around, him. Uninterested in the working press, Wolff’s special focus (fixation, even) has always been on the power players–the moguls–most of whom he has relentlessly and repeatedly skewered, scraping away the sheen of power and money to reveal the warts, flab, and psychic scars plaguing that rarefied breed of (in Wolff’s view) super-wealthy narcissists who buy, run, and ruin media companies for the gratification of their insatiable egos…

So should Washington’s political chieftains be concerned that the scourge of New York’s mogul class–the man who claims partial credit for Michael Eisner’s current job crisis–has them in his sights? Not really. Whatever his gifts in chronicling the follies and foibles of the Manhattan media elite, Wolff is neither as insightful nor as entertaining when dissecting politics. As New York journalists are the first to acknowledge, Wolff is the quintessential New York creation, fixated on culture, style, buzz, and money, money, money. (For Wolff, nothing is more erotic than a multibillionaire.) Though not of the mogul class, he arguably understands the culture and mindset in which it thrives better than almost anyone. The same cannot be said of politics…

So last decade! A certain ‘Manhattan media elite’ (okay, media elite target) now squats in the Oval Office… and Michael Wolff, presciently, made sure to be there when the occupation started. As it is with Donny Dollhands, it’s not whether the stories in his new book are “true” or “false”; it’s how much attention those stories can draw. Quite a lot!

From Paul Farhi, at the Washington Post, “Michael Wolff tells a juicy tale in his new Trump book. But should we believe it?”:

A provocateur and media polemicist, Wolff has a penchant for stirring up an argument and pushing the facts as far as they’ll go, and sometimes further than they can tolerate, according to his critics. He has been accused of not just re-creating scenes in his books and columns, but of creating them wholesale…

According to an unauthorized report in the Guardian newspaper and a lengthy excerpt in New York magazine, Wolff portrays Trump and his closest aides as astonished by his electoral victory in 2016, and wholly unprepared for office. Trump, he reports, had no idea who former House speaker John A. Boehner was when Roger Ailes, a campaign adviser, recommended him as chief of staff. Top advisers and allies doubted the president’s intelligence and openly mocked him.
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Open Thread: The Trump Regime Is Gonna Break All the Very Serious Conservatives

Max “Kill All Those Noisy Foreigners” Boot, in Foreign Policy, for the Trickster God’s sake!

As a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union, I felt it was ridiculous to expect me to atone for the sins of slavery and segregation, to say nothing of the household drudgery and workplace discrimination suffered by women. I wasn’t racist or sexist. (Or so I thought.) I hadn’t discriminated against anyone. (Or so I thought.) My ancestors were not slave owners or lynchers; they were more likely victims of the pogroms.

I saw America as a land of opportunity, not a bastion of racism or sexism. I didn’t even think that I was a “white” person — the catchall category that has been extended to include everyone from a Mayflower descendant to a recently arrived illegal immigrant from Ireland. I was a newcomer to America who was eager to assimilate into this wondrous new society, and I saw its many merits while blinding myself to its dark side.

Well, live and learn. A quarter century is enough time to examine deeply held shibboleths and to see if they comport with reality. In my case, I have concluded that my beliefs were based more on faith than on a critical examination of the evidence. In the last few years, in particular, it has become impossible for me to deny the reality of discrimination, harassment, even violence that people of color and women continue to experience in modern-day America from a power structure that remains for the most part in the hands of straight, white males. People like me, in other words. Whether I realize it or not, I have benefitted from my skin color and my gender — and those of a different gender or sexuality or skin color have suffered because of it….

The country is becoming more aware of oppression and injustice, which have long permeated our society, precisely because of growing agitation to do something about it. Those are painful but necessary steps toward creating a more equal and just society. But we are not there yet, and it is wrong to pretend otherwise. It is even more pernicious to cling to the conceit, so popular among Donald Trump’s supporters, that straight white men are the “true” victims because their unquestioned position of privilege is now being challenged by uppity women, gay people, and people of color…

There is a hairsplitting argument to be made about whether Trump is the cause or just the catalyst of so many staunch conservatives’ sudden realization: If they’ll treat their own family members and neighbors like this, they’ll certainly treat me just as badly. But as long as they remember their manners, I’m ready to accept Mr. Boot (and Ana Navarro, Tom Nichols, et al) to our big tent and the 21st century!

Open Thread: The Very Serious Media Will Never Give Up Their ‘WWC Trump Voters’ Woobie

The suits assigning these articles are doing very nicely under the Trump Oval Office Occupation. The Media Village Idiots writing / mouthing the stories have all their deeply ingrained prejudices (not just about people of color, but about non-Ivy-League white people who can’t immediately tell you their SAT scores) reinforced by these stories. The moguls paying for the media are happy to assume these stories mean that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Whyever would they stop telling each other (and, incidentally, us) these heartwarming tales, just because they’re irrelevant to 97% of their supposed news “mission”?