I’m going to be completely honest, and I don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way, but I am constantly in a state of moderate confusion lately. Donald Trump’s ability to pile one ridiculous fuckup on top of another has exceeded my ability to keep track of them all. Right now, as far as I can tell, there are two fuckups currently dominating the news: the James Comey firing/Russia investigation, and the other Russia scandal involving Trump blabbing classified secrets to Sergey Lavrov last week. These may be related–if you believe that Donald Trump is an FSB asset, for example, then they’re clearly related. My own feeling is they’re probably not related, because while I think there’s a growing mound of evidence to suggest that Trump has had nefarious financial and even political dealings with the Russians, I would bet the thing with Lavrov was just Trump running at the mouth like the blabbering idiot we’ve all seen that he is.
On Comey, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that Comey wrote a memo that, if it’s even in the ballpark of accurate, suggests that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. According to the memo, before he fired Comey, Trump cornered the former FBI director after a meeting at the White House and gave him a “nice place you got here, it would be a shame if something was to happen to it” talk about the investigation into ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s alleged ties to Moscow:
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.
Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”
I mean, come on. Assuming we can trust Comey’s memo, there’s not much ambiguity here. There’s also not much reason to think it will matter, because the Republican House is not going to impeach Donald Trump unless he does something truly beyond the pale, like officiate a gay wedding or raise capital gains taxes. On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. Rosenstein’s decision stems directly from the Comey firing and should mollify people who are demanding an independent investigation into Trump’s Russia ties…at least until Trump gets fed up and fires Mueller. Which we have to assume he’s going to do at some point, right?
My favorite part of this story is that the “leaning on Comey” bit is really only the second-most offensive thing in the memo:
According to New York Times reporting on the memo, Comey wrote that Trump asked him to shut down an investigation into fired National Security Director Michael Flynn. But the president also urged Comey to try to put journalists in prison for publishing stories based on classified leaks, according to the Times. The memo records that Trump asked everyone else to leave the room before making his plea for jailing reporters, according to the source who read the memo to Times reporters but did not share copies with them.
Those reports raise grave concerns about the government’s relationship with the media, civil liberties groups and non-profits that advocate for press freedom said — in part because Trump’s proposal would test the Constitution in new ways with uncertain outcomes.
We are so fucked.
Now, on to the Lavrov-classified info story. As you know, Trump shared highly classified intel with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting last Thursday. The intel reportedly had to do with the administration’s ongoing quest to ban personal electronics from all flights heading into the US, and was apparently specific enough that the Russians were able to figure out its source. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster issued a firm non-denial of the story that was really remarkable for the degree to which it failed to respond to anything about the actual allegation. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to share a transcript of the Trump-Lavrov meeting that would “prove” Trump didn’t share classified info, which is excellent trolling but doesn’t hold much water when Trump himself flat-out admitted to doing it, arguing that he has an “absolute right” to share classified information with whomever he wants. And while I would argue that it’s not “absolute,” he does have pretty wide latitude in these sorts of cases. But nobody is really arguing that Trump broke the law here–they’re arguing that the incident shows he’s unfit for office.
The source, by the by, was apparently Israel, via spies that the Jordanian intelligence community has within ISIS. This presumably explains why a call with Jordan’s King Abdullah was hurriedly added to Trump’s schedule for Tuesday, after the Lavrov story had broken. The Israeli government says that its intelligence-sharing relationship with the US remains unaffected, but then Trump didn’t burn their assets, did he? And, you know, it’s one thing for Israel to say the relationship is unaffected publicly, but who knows if that will actually hold true in practice. Certainly Jordan now has reason to question sharing intel with the US, and with Israel for that matter. And any number of other US allies could begin hedging on the intel they share with Washington if they think Trump is going to spill it to the first diplomat who wanders into the Oval Office.
This is probably not great for national security, but you know what’s also not great for national security is having a cognitively impaired president. I know, the country survived the Reagan years, sort of, and admittedly I don’t have a great memory of those days since I was still in middle school when Reagan left office, but Reagan seems to have been a lot easier for his staff to manage than Trump has been. Maybe Reagan’s staff was better, or maybe Trump is harder to control, or maybe both, I don’t know. But it goes beyond sharing classified info because the filter between your brain and your mouth is gone. It goes beyond the nutty 3 AM tweetstorms and the bizarre stream-of-consciousness speeches. Look at the man we’ve elected president:
Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.
He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.
National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,” according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
He can’t read all the way to the end of a single-page memo unless his name gets shoved into it over and over again. Trump seems like a classic narcissist, but this is more than that. It’s child-like. It’s alarming.
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