The God-King is still at war with intelligence…. (More)

“We should not – and cannot – trust this man”

His battle against the intelligence community – and intelligence itself – is an ongoing story, and the proverbial plot thickened yesterday. First, the Wall Street Journal reported that intelligence officials are withholding sensitive information such as sources and methods when they brief the God-King. That report cites anonymous sources, and both Mother Jones’ Ben Dreyfuss and the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers warn us to be wary of anonymously-sourced reports. Fair enough.

But Vox’s Sean Illing found a source willing to go on the record:

Much of the news today will (rightly) focus on the political implications of this story. This interview is about the escalating tensions between President Trump and the American intelligence community. My interviewee is Glenn Carle, a 23-year veteran of the CIA and a former deputy officer on the National Intelligence Council. Here, I ask him if we’ve truly entered uncharted territory, and if he believes Trump’s ties to Russia have compromised our national security.

Here are some highlights:

What’s happened is that the organs of government sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States have been trying to do their jobs. Intelligence professionals take their responsibilities seriously. Whatever they do, they do it because they believe it is necessary, because they believe duty demands it. They’re not playing political games.
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We are facing the gravest threat to our institutions and our government since 1861, since the country broke in half. This is a graver crisis than Watergate, which was about corruption, not the usurpation of our laws and our checks and balances. It’s graver than World War II, when Hitler never actually threatened our institutions or occupation of Washington.

So this goes back to 1861. It’s a huge societal and institutional crisis. We’re dealing with a man in Trump who doesn’t accept a fact-based reality, who only acts for his own self-aggrandizement, and who views any action that does not serve him as a threat that must be destroyed. And, on top of that, his team appears to have been colluding with Russian intelligence services.

This is a massive crisis for our norms and our Constitution, and we have to say so.
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To say that the leaks are the real issue is like saying the guy who reported that he saw someone set fire to a building had dirty shoes. It’s an egregious misdirection of attention.
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We all should know this man very well at this point: If something seems to create an issue for him, he will denounce, denigrate, and attempt to destroy the person or the entity responsible for creating it. That’s it. The law doesn’t count for Donald Trump. Social convention doesn’t count for Donald Trump. Institutional practices don’t count for Donald Trump. Only Donald Trump counts for Donald Trump. Nothing else matters.

So no, we should not – and cannot – trust this man.

You should read the full interview. It’s stern stuff.

“Out of concern those governments would incur the president’s wrath”

Meanwhile, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald reports that our European allies are gathering intelligence on the God-King and his cronies:

As part of intelligence operations being conducted against the United States for the last seven months, at least one Western European ally intercepted a series of communications before the inauguration between advisers associated with President Donald Trump and Russian government officials, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The sources said the interceptions include at least one contact between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian official based in the United States. It could not be confirmed whether this involved the telephone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that has led to Flynn’s resignation, or additional communications. The sources said the intercepted communications are not just limited to telephone calls: The foreign agency is also gathering electronic and human source information on Trump’s overseas business partners, at least some of whom the intelligence services now consider to be agents of their respective governments. These operations are being conducted out of concerns that Russia is seeking to manipulate its relationships with Trump administration officials as part of a long-term plan to destabilize the NATO alliance.

Again, Eichenwald’s sources are anonymous, and he explains why:

These sources spoke on condition that they not be identified because they were not formally authorized to disclose the information. While Newsweek was told which allied nations intercepted the communications and are gathering intelligence on Trump associates, the sources did so on condition that the countries not be identified out of concern those governments would incur the president’s wrath.

The Western European intelligence operations began in August, after the British government obtained information that people acting on behalf of Russia were in contact with members of the Trump campaign. Those details from the British were widely shared among the NATO allies in Europe. The Baltic nation has been gathering intelligence for at least that long, and has conducted surveillance of executives from the Trump Organization who were traveling in Europe.

These operations reflect a serious breakdown in the long-standing faith in the direction of American policy by some of the country’s most important allies. Worse, the United States is now in a situation that may be unprecedented – where European governments know more about what is going on in the executive branch than any elected American official. To date, the Republican-controlled Congress has declined to conduct hearings to investigate the links between Trump’s overseas business partners and foreign governments, or the activities between Russia and officials in the Trump campaign and administration – the very areas being examined by the intelligence services of at least two American allies.

It’s entirely reasonable to fear the God-King’s wrath, and Eichenwald has a solid reputation as a reporter. The idea that our allies are taking pains to know more about the God-King than are our Republican-led Congress is … not a huge surprise….

“There is not going to be one; I can tell you there is absolutely not going to be one.”

Consider House Intelligence Committee chair Kevin Nunes’ response when asked about forming a select committee to investigate the God-King’s Russian ties:

When asked about the possibility of a select committee, Nunes added: “There is not going to be one; I can tell you there is absolutely not going to be one. And I am not going to be lectured by people who are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.”

By that last sentence, Nunes apparently means the Obama administration’s decision not to press Congress on this issue during the 2016 election campaign … as if he and other Republicans wouldn’t have howled about White House “meddling.” As always with House Republicans, it’s a matter of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t.

But at least some Senate Republicans are taking this more seriously:

The leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Department of Justice and FBI Wednesday to brief their committee on the situation regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-IA and Diane Feinstein, D-CA, the chairman and ranking member of the committee, cite media reports indicating the involvement of the Justice Department and the FBI in the circumstances leading up to Flynn’s resignation.

“Accordingly, we request that individuals with specific knowledge of these issues from both the FBI and Justice Department brief Committee Members and staff,” reads the letter. “We similarly request copies of the transcripts of Mr. Flynn’s intercepted calls and the FBI report summarizing the intercepted calls referenced in the media.”

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of the loop:

Senate Democrats on Wednesday called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any executive branch investigation into possible ties between the Trump administration and Russia.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said Sessions should not be involved because of potential conflicts of interest and because of Justice Department regulations that prohibit individuals with political ties to the subjects of an investigation from leading it. President Donald Trump nominated Sessions for the attorney general’s post and the senator was one of his earliest and staunchest backers in Congress.

“When the FBI looks into a matter, they do so alongside prosecutors from the Justice Department,” Schumer said. “Those prosecutors should not be reporting to the first senator who endorsed Donald Trump’s campaign.”

Well sure. It’s a well-known fact that foxes are not reliable henhouse security staff.

“There are some deeds that cannot be acknowledged”

And Mother Jones’s David Corn warns that, this time, the cover-up may not be the worst of it:

On Tuesday, I bumped into a prominent Republican consultant, and he said that Trump had to “get out in front of” the burgeoning scandal and disclose all the facts because “the cover-up is always worse.” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza offered similar advice to the president on Wednesday morning: “What is really needed at this point is a full and complete debrief for the American people from Trump himself. Why was his campaign in ‘constant’ contact with Russian officials? Who in the campaign – or the broader Trump organization – was involved? Are they still with the campaign or the business? What was discussed on these calls?…Why is Trump so reluctant to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular?”

But the cover-up here may not be worse than the actions being covered up.
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How can Trump and his crew concede that they were hobnobbing with a foreign government that was waging political warfare against the United States? The “full and complete debrief” that Cillizza advocates would require Trump to acknowledge that he and his team have covered up these contacts and explain why. This “full and complete debrief” could well show that Trump’s camp cozied up to a repressive government that was seeking to destabilize US politics to help Trump. It could reveal that Trump associates directly or indirectly encouraged Putin’s attack on the 2016 election.

Trump would lose all legitimacy as president were he to admit that anything of this sort transpired. There are some deeds that cannot be acknowledged. Expecting Trump and his lieutenants to confess that his campaign or business associates were networking with the Kremlin or Russian intelligence is not realistic – especially after their months of denial. (Trump also for months refused to accept the US intelligence assessment that Russia was behind the hacking and leaking aimed at Democratic targets, and when he finally bent on this point, he downplayed Moscow’s meddling in the election.) Trump cannot continue to present himself as the triumphant winner of a fair election if it turns out his own people were palling around with Moscow.

Another famous line is this: You can’t handle the truth. Further revelations about contacts between the Trump camp and Russia could pose an existential threat to the Trump White House. The clear choice for him and his gang is to deny, to stonewall, to distract, to lie. Trump doesn’t explain the pre-election contacts; he complains about leaks. He casts all interest in this controversy as merely the revenge of the Clinton losers. He calls reporting on the Russia connection “fake news” and slams journalists pursuing the Flynn story as “fake media.” This is not shocking. He might not be able to survive a full accounting. The poison of the cover-up may be less deadly than the poison of the event itself.

Even if House Republicans want to ignore it, at least some in our media have kept digging and at least some sources remain willing to share their concerns. And Glenn Carle told Sean Illing why they’re talking anonymously:

What do you do if you think the officer in charge of you is the one who’s betraying the oath and the obligations to protect the Constitution and the country?

If you resign, then someone else will take your place. If you report the information, it will be tabled or used against you rather than acted upon. If you go in-house, you risk having the information passed up the chain of command. So if I were put in this dilemma, I would do what I thought was necessary to protect the nation’s secrets.
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The only thing you can do is what is now happening: an aroused populace can protect democracy. You fight darkness by casting light upon it. So one should not characterize leaks, as the cowardly and self-interested Republicans have, as the issue. Leaks are the only option that one has in this existential crisis to protect the Constitution.

Stern stuff, indeed.

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Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Good day and good nuts