Republicans Are Using the Russian Playbook on the FBI

Republicans Are Using the Russian Playbook on the FBI

New York Magazine
By Jonathan Chait

Odds are, you don’t remember any of the particular revelations contained in the stolen emails from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. But when WikiLeaks published them two years ago, they created a furor. The snippets of conversation, wrenched out of context, seemed to supply hidden evidence of what Hillary Clinton’s critics on both the left and the right already suspected.

One of the reasons Clinton’s left-wing critics dismissed charges of Russian hacking was that they feared the crime would overshadow the apparently revelatory emails.

The email hacks did not actually reveal anything nearly so incriminating. What the episode showed was that, if hostile actors are allowed to peek into a vast trove of their target’s private thoughts, they can usually find something that sounds shady. This is exactly the method Republicans are now using to discredit the FBI.

Republicans didn’t steal messages from the FBI. They happened upon them because two FBI agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, happened to be having an affair, and since they used their phones to communicate (to avoid detection by their spouses), the messages they sent fell into the laps of Congress. For weeks, Republicans have followed the WikiLeaks formula with these texts, selectively leaking snippets of conversation to feed a distorted story line to the media.

Republican senator Ron Johnson highlights a text of Strzok expressing reluctance to join Robert Mueller’s team, because “my gut sense and concern is there’s no big there there.” Johnson told a conservative talk-show host that this “jaw-dropping” comment amounted to a confession that Strzok knew that Trump was innocent and joined Mueller’s investigation to smear him. But maybe Strzok simply had an open mind and thought Mueller’s probe stood a strong chance of clearing Trump. Another Strzok “scandal” grew out of a text he sent expressing the opinion that Clinton would not be charged in the email investigation. The text “suggests they knew and, in turn, believed Loretta Lynch knew, that no charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton, even before the FBI had interviewed her over her unauthorized private email server,” reports Breitbart.

They knew! The fix was in! Or maybe they simply knew that the evidence of the private email server did not amount to a plausible federal case against Clinton.

 

How the GOP Rigs Elections

How the GOP Rigs Elections

Rollingstone
By Ari Berman
Image courtesy of Victor Juhasz

To say that Republicans are facing a toxic political environment heading into the 2018 midterm elections would be a massive understatement. Donald Trump is the most unpopular president at this stage of his term in modern American history. Just three in 10 Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and Democratic voters’ enthusiasm to vote in 2018 tops Republican voters’ by 17 points. But because of sophisticated gerrymandering, Republicans who should be vulnerable, like Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, have been seen as untouchable. “It’s more challenging than it should be because of the way the districts are drawn,” says Jenni Dye, who works for Democrats in Wisconsin’s state Senate. Wanggaard is among 11 Republican state senators up for re-election in 2018, but no one has stepped forward to challenge him yet.

The gerrymandering in Wisconsin, which experts call among the most extreme in U.S. history, is but one part of Republicans’ stealth plan to stay in office. Since Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature took power, they’ve also introduced some of the country’s harshest voting restrictions, passing laws that make it harder for Democratic-leaning constituencies to register to vote and cast ballots. At the same time, the state has become the “Wild West of dark money,” according to Lisa Graves, a senior fellow at the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, with Republican politicians like Walker raising unprecedented sums from billionaire donors to finance their campaigns.

“All three of these things have to be seen as part of a whole,” says Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s attorney general, who founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in 2016 to challenge Republican gerrymandering efforts. “Unregulated dark money combined with these voter-ID laws combined with gerrymandering is inconsistent with how our nation’s system is supposed to be set up. American citizens ought to be concerned about the state of our democracy. We could end up with a system where a well-financed minority that has views inconsistent with the vast majority of the American people runs this country.”

More immediately, a beleaguered Republican Party tainted by Trump could still retain majorities in 2018 and 2020. “It’s not a level playing field,” says Tom Perez, head of the Democratic National Committee. “There are millions of people whose votes effectively don’t count.” And as a measure of the GOP’s ability to maintain a political advantage, despite widespread public opposition to its policies, look no further than Wisconsin. “We’ve been under a counterrevolution here for the past six years,” says Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks the influence of money in politics. “Walker has urged other states to follow his model. Reactionary politics is a big Wisconsin export now.”

I almost feel sorry for Trump

I almost feel sorry for Trump

The Washington Post
By Kathleen Parker
Image courtesy of Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Countless people — and not just Democrats — have been trying all last year, and before, to convey that Trump wasn’t up to the job. Even his inner circle concluded as much after a brief romance with the fantasy that they could make him into a useful president. His behavior, language, outbursts, impulsiveness — all suggested that he is “like a child,” as Wolff put it Friday on NBC’s “Today.” Worse, given those very characteristics, that he’s quite possibly not mentally competent to perform his duties.

Other interesting tidbits include that members of Trump’s Cabinet have called him an “idiot” and a “dope” behind his back. Would the two people in the back of the room who have not used these words to describe the president please raise your hand? We’re so glad you were able to join us before returning to the asylum today.

One needn’t look far for evidence. Most recent is Trump’s taunt to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that his nuclear button is bigger than Kim’s.

Other interesting tidbits include that members of Trump’s Cabinet have called him an “idiot” and a “dope” behind his back.

The truth will out, we keep telling ourselves. But will people believe it? That is the question.

And the Trumpie goes to . . .

And the Trumpie goes to . . .

The Washington Post
By Dana Milbank
Image courtesy of Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Of all the scandalous revelations in the Michael Wolff book, the most revealing may be the one about the apricot swirl atop the president’s head.

Now, via Wolff, comes a plausible explanation from Ivanka Trump of her father’s bouffant: “She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate — a contained island after scalp-reduction ­surgery — surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray.” And the color “was from a product called Just for Men — the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair color.”

There it is, in orange and white: Everything about the man is deceptive, even the style of his hair — and the size of his button.

Faust on the Potomac

The New York Times
By Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman writes —

I haven’t yet read Wolff’s book – do I really have to? — but the basic outlines of his story have long been familiar and uncontroversial to anyone with open eyes. Trump is morally and intellectually incapable of being president. He has also exploited his office for personal gain, obstructed justice, and colluded with a hostile foreign power. Everyone who doesn’t get their news from Fox has basically known this for a while, although Wolff helps focus our minds on the subject.

It seems to me that that the real news now is the way Republicans in Congress are dealing with this national nightmare: rather than distancing themselves from Trump, they’re doubling down on their support and, in particular, on their efforts to cover for his defects and crimes. Remember when Paul Ryan was the Serious, Honest Conservative? (He never really was, but that was his public image.) Now he’s backing Devin Nunes in his efforts to help the Trump coverup.

As Brian Beutler says, Republicans have become the Grand Obstruction Party. Why?

The answer, I think, is that the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap. And as far as we can tell, no elected Republican – not one – has the strength of character to even attempt an escape.

For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side.

What this means, among other things, is that expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.

I asked Trump a blunt question: Do you read?

The Washington Post
By Joe Scarborough

Michael Wolff’s tantalizing takedown of President Trump’s White House is so tightly packed with tales of political convulsion and personal betrayal that official Washington will be buzzing off its sugar high for weeks. But after the shock of Wolff’s account of Trump’s willful ignorance and intellectual incoherence fades, Americans will be left with the inescapable conclusion that the president is not capable of fulfilling his duties as commander in chief.

The GOP’s defense of this indefensible president appears even more preposterous following Wolff’s revelation, in his new book, “Fire and Fury,” of former adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s observation that members of Trump’s team, including his son, committed nothing less than treason. (Disclosure: I am thanked in the book’s acknowledgments and make an appearance in a handful of passages.) Republican politicians who have spent the past year eagerly wading through the slimy political backwash churned up by Trumpism will look even more foolish aping the former reality star’s attacks on the special counsel. Despite their desperate declarations that the Vietnam War hero is dragging his feet, Robert S. Mueller III has proved himself ruthlessly efficient in rooting out public corruption.

In just the past two months, the president’s first national security adviser and most trusted traveling companion pleaded guilty to federal charges; he is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Trump’s campaign manager through the Republican National Convention was also arrested, charged and released only after posting $10 million in bail. A man Trump identified as one of his top foreign policy advisers has also pleaded guilty in federal court and is cooperating with the feds. Another Trump campaign aide was charged in a 12-count indictment. And with the release of “Fire and Fury,” we now know that yet another campaign official for the Republican president — one who subsequently served in his White House — believes that close Trump advisers were “treasonous” to meet with Russians during the campaign.

The age of betrayal is back

The age of betrayal is back

The Washington Post
By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Dec. 20, 2017, will live on as a day of disgrace and dishonor.

It will be remembered as the day when a government of, by and for the people became a government of, by and for wealthy campaign donors — and of, by and for wealthy Republican politicians themselves.

We thought the corruption, self-dealing and social indifference of the Gilded Age were long behind us. But we underestimated the raw nerve of President Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

This Triumvirate of Privilege has returned us to the “age of betrayal,” as writer Jack Beatty called the years of the robber barons. The goal has always been to roll back the social advances that the country has made since the Progressive Era. On Wednesday, the demolition crews in the House and Senate struck a devastating blow.

The tax law loots the federal treasury on behalf of major corporations and the richest people in America. It sharply shifts the nation’s tax burden onto wage and salary earners whom Trump, Ryan and McConnell treat as serfs expected to bow before the wielders of capital, including real estate titans such as the president himself. It also creates an utterly unstable tax code. So many new opportunities for evasion were stuffed into this monstrosity that not a single person who voted for it can fully know what its effects will be.

This lobbyists’ wish list was passed with unconscionably reckless haste because those who confected it didn’t want mere citizens to grasp what they were doing. In this, they failed. The polls make clear that citizens, including many Republicans and many Trump supporters, know exactly whom this bill will benefit, and whom it will hurt. No tax cut in recent memory has been so unpopular.

Trump will keep lying about the bill’s financial impact on him. Some of Trump’s die-hard supporters will keep cheering when he calls out kneeling NFL players. But so many who wanted to believe what he said about draining the swamp and standing for our country’s “forgotten men and women” understand that they have been kicked to the curb.

Eventually, even the most accomplished charlatans show us who they really are.