Memoirs of the Addams Administration 20.

Many people who did not want Donald Trump to become president have now swung around to the position that he is unfit to remain president.  Since President Trump has obeyed the courts when they contradicted some of his executive orders and most of the rhetorical violence has come from the left, his critics have abandoned the fascist/authoritarian-populist critique.  Instead, they have attacked on the line of his emotional immaturity/impulsiveness/need for adulation.[1]  Certainly, the president provides his critics with a lot of good stand-up material.

In January 2017, when embroiled in a controversy about Russian meddling in the presidential election in which American intelligence agencies appeared to be the source of leaks of classified information intended to discredit the Trump presidency, President Donald Trump asked James Comey, the Director of the EffaBeeEye, for his “loyalty.”  Later, but still early in the Trump administration, the National Security Adviser-designate, General Michael Flynn (ret.), misled Vice President Michael Pence about the nature of his contacts with Russkie government officials.[2]  Then, members of the intelligence agencies, ones with access to state secrets, leaked evidence of Flynn’s contact with the Russkies.  Flynn then had to resign.  The newly-elected and politically-inexperienced president expressed to Comey the hope that his disgraced former National Security Advisor would not be pursued.  “He’s a good guy,” said the president, “I hope you can let this go.”[3]  Director Comey returned to his office, wrote a Memorandum of Conversation (MemCon), and showed it to his chief subordinates.

After President Trump dismissed Director Comey, one of Comey’s subordinates—or more likely one of their sluggers—then leaked selected bits of the MemCon to the press.  The ensuing fire-storm led Ron Rosenstein, the acting Attorney General for Russian matters, to appoint Robert Mueller as Special Something to investigate Russian meddling in the election of 2016.  “And all that implies.”[4]

Soon afterward, it was revealed that President Trump had shared intelligence information about the Islamic State (ISIS) with the Russkie foreign minister and the ambassador.[5]  The intelligence purportedly came from Israel.[6]  One alleged concern arose from the possibility that the Russians would reveal this information to ISIS (with whom they are at war) or use it to blackmail the original source to provide information for Russian attacks on ISIS.  The dependence of American intelligence agencies on foreign service liaisons for much “human intelligence” (actual spies) means that endangering those sources is a really serious matter.  Our “friends” could decide to pull down the blinds.  Who could blame them?

[1] “Trump: Is he unfit for office?” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 8.  On the other hand, the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey led to much discussion of the prospect that the president could be forced out of office over a criminal matter.  “Comey: Trump’s ‘Saturday Night Massacre’?” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 18.  A situationally-helpful comic effect can be achieved by reading these criticisms of the president in conjunction with reviews of Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017).

[2] “Comey memo triggers new Trump crisis,” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 6.

[3] If you cannot imagine expressing the same hope to the authorities on behalf of one of your friends, then the federal government is the place for you.

[4] It is possible that the investigations by both Mueller and by House and Senate committees will lead to the leaking of other Comey MemCons, perhaps regarding his investigation of Hillary Clinton.

[5] “Trump’s intelligence sharing with Russia,” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 7.

[6] The intelligence budget is—purportedly—linked to the defense budget.  When military spending fell after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so did spending on intelligence.  Thereafter, the United States relied ever more heavily upon liaison relationships with foreign intelligence agencies to fill the gaps.  That’s fine so long as foreign intelligence agencies are pursuing the American agenda, rather than the agenda of their own governments.

Advertisements

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 10.

Jonathan Chait has argued that Donald Trump and a coterie of advisers “cooperated with the undermining of American democracy by a hostile foreign power [Russia].”  James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence and no fan of President Trump, has said that “there is no evidence” of “collusion between members of the Trump administration and the Russians.”[1]  So which is it?  Chait is a partisan Democratic journalist at a time of considerable distress for the party.  Clapper is an experienced professional who had access to all they key intelligence before he left office.  All things considered, Clapper’s seems the more credible voice.

Even so, that leaves the problem of all the false denials of contacts between some Trump followers and various Russians.  Michael Flynn has been the most egregious case of this so far, but Jeff Sessions may still end up in serious trouble over his terminological inexactitude.

The Russians undoubtedly “intervened” in the election by hacking into the computers of various Democratic figures and institutions, then releasing the fruits through Wikileaks.   The results came in the revelation of information that the Clinton campaign would have preferred to keep secret because it likely would alienate many voters in a tight race.  First, how did that “undermine democracy”?  Second, would the revelation of this information by American investigative journalists not have undermined democracy?  As for the lying, part of the explanation may be the firestorm of criticism heaped on Republicans by Democrats after the election.  Another part of the explanation may be sheer stupidity.   As Jonathan Tobin has pointed out, the Benghazi witch-hunt didn’t help Republicans.

There seems to be a lot of that going around.  Recently, Breitbart News claimed that a story in the New York Times had reported that federal officials had “intercepted communications and financial transactions” between Russians and members of the Trump posse.[2]  Almost immediately, President Trump walked—stormed, really—into a door by claiming that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”  This charge elicited a hostile reaction from all across the spectrum.

Under these circumstances, many observers may be having a sigh of relief that actual legislation on important issues has begun to move forward.  Republicans launched their campaign to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the American Health Care Act (AHCA).[3]  In some ways, the AHCA really is “Obamacare lite.”[4]

What gets lost in the criticism of the bill is that Americans pay a lot more for not-as-good health care than do people in Western Europe and Japan.   The ACA did little to address this problem.  Arguably, it is a more important problem than the issue of people without insurance.  (They always had “catastrophic care” through emergency rooms.  I know it’s cold to say that.)  Both Medicaid and a lot of employer-provided health insurance are in effect open-ended when it comes to spending.   The fundamental dispute between Republican and Democrats is the likely effect of limiting spending.  Will insurers hold down their premiums in a less-regulated market in order to gain customers, then find ways to cram-down costs?  This is the Republican wager.  Or will insurers shred insurance for the poor in order to keep targeting the easy money?  This is the Democratic wager.  Whoever “wins,” the stakes are high.

[1] Both are quoted in “Trump and Russia: What do we really know?” The Week, 17 March 2017, p. 6.  On Chait, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Chait

[2] “Trump accuses Obama of illegal wiretap,” The Week, 17 March 2017, p. 4.  The story in the NYT ran on 19 January 2017.  See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/us/politics/trump-russia-associates-investigation.html?_r=0

[3] “Republicans face a revolt over health bill,” The Week, 17 March 2017, p. 5.

[4] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/03/05/memoirs-of-the-addams-administration-9/