Maybe this will end the God-King’s bromance with Putin…. (More)

“Some 755 of them will have to terminate their activity”

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to respond to the God-King’s signal that he will sign the new sanctions bill passed by near-unanimous majorities in the Senate and House. In an interview on Russian TV, Putin said he will cut 755 U.S. embassy and mission staff in Russia:

In the interview, Putin said that the number of American diplomatic and technical personnel will be capped at 455 – equivalent to the number of their Russian counterparts working in the United States. Currently, close to 1,200 employees work at the United States’ embassy and consulates in Russia, according to U.S. and Russian data.

“More than a thousand employees – diplomats and technical employees – have worked and are still working in Russia these days,” Putin told journalist Vladimir Solovyov on a nationally televised news show Sunday evening. “Some 755 of them will have to terminate their activity.”

To be clear, Putin will not “expel 755 U.S. diplomats,” as several websites including the New York Times are reporting. New York Magazine’s Chas Danner explains the confusion:

Initial reports about Putin’s order indicated that 755 American diplomats would need to leave the country, but the actual translation of Putin’s comments turns out to have been that 755 U.S. Embassy personnel will have to “pack up.” That being the case, it’s likely that Putin’s order means that the U.S. will have to both pull some of its American diplomatic personnel and fire some of its Russian support staff. (A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, also pointed out on Sunday that he didn’t think there even were as many as 755 American diplomats working in Russia.)

The Washington Post says most of those dismissed will be Russian nationals:

The U.S. Embassy in Russia has been unable to provide exact numbers on the number of staff it employs in Russia. But according to a 2013 review by the State Department, of 1,200 employees of the American Mission in Moscow, 333 were U.S. nationals and 867 were foreign nationals, many of them probably local Russian support staff, including drivers, electricians, accountants and security guards. That would suggest that the majority of the 755 who must be cut would not be expelled from the country.

In short, hundreds of ordinary Russians will lose their jobs and a relative handful of U.S. citizens – mostly office staff – will be sent home. Putin announced that Russia will also seize two U.S. properties:

In another retaliatory move on Friday, the Kremlin also said it was seizing two U.S. properties in Russia that are used by American diplomats for recreational purposes.

The New York TimesDavid Sanger reports that Putin’s gambit seems to have failed:

A little more than a year after the Russian effort to interfere in the American presidential election came to light, the diplomatic fallout – an unraveling of the relationship between Moscow and Washington on a scale not seen in decades – is taking its toll.

President Vladimir V. Putin bet that Donald J. Trump, who had spoken fondly of Russia and its authoritarian leader for years, would treat his nation as Mr. Putin has longed to have it treated by the West. That is, as the superpower it once was, or at least a major force to be reckoned with, from Syria to Europe, and boasting a military revived after two decades of neglect.

That bet has now backfired, spectacularly. If the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week sent any message to Moscow, it was that Mr. Trump’s hands are now tied in dealing with Moscow, probably for years to come.

Putin seems to have overestimated the power of the U.S. presidency, either believing that it mirrored his own or that the God-King would employ that power to mirror Putin.

“A strange combination of menacing and impotent”

The God-King has tried, but Congress, the courts, and even senior agency and military officials have refused to roll over, as Lawfare’s Jack Goldsmith explains:

The Trump Presidency is a strange combination of menacing and impotent. It is also fractured internally like no presidency in American history.

The menacing element is plain. Trump sets everyone on edge with incessant verbal attacks and relentlessly indecorous behavior. The maelstrom that is his presidency seems like it could at any moment push the country off the rails—massive pardons to kill the Russia investigation, a Justice Department meltdown as a result of firings and resignations, a North Korean miscalculation, or who-knows-what-other-crazy-thing. Many people worry how the impulsive Trump will handle his first crisis.
As for impotence, Trump has accomplished nothing beyond conservative judicial appointments. His administration is otherwise a comedy of errors in the exercise of executive power. What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive. Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials. I’m not talking about so-called “deep state” bureaucrats. I’m talking about senior officials in the Justice Department and the military and intelligence and foreign affairs agencies. And they are not just ignoring or contradicting him in private. They are doing so in public for all the world to see.
The fractured executive branch is partly a result of terrible executive organization but mainly the product of an incompetent, mendacious president interacting with appointed or inherited executive branch officials who possess integrity. The President says and does things that his senior officials, when asked, cannot abide. And so they tell the truth, often with an awkward wince, or they ignore the President. And in response to this overt disrespect, President Trump does … nothing.

The president seems scary, and he is, but he also has no control over his administration. There is lots of talk about Trump’s threat to the independence of the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence community, and the like. But the truth is that these agencies are operating with an independence to presidential wishes like never before. It’s a very strange state of affairs.

Wingnuts cite this as proof of a “deep state” or “the swamp.” But in reality it’s about Congress and the courts exercising their constitutional duties, and federal employees remaining loyal to the Constitution and the American people rather than to the God-King. He acts as if the government is his private business, but so far our democratic institutions have blocked his monarchal impulses.

I call that good news.


Photo Credit: Getty Images


Good day and good nuts