Category Archives: Politics

Comey and the Chain of Command

Former FBI Director James Comey’s written testimony for tomorrow’s hearing is out. No new revelations as such, but the overall tone is is very striking.

One other interesting aspect is Comey’s relationships with his bosses. On Feb. 14 Comey did not share his concerns with his bosses, although he did share them with senior FBI officials:

The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President’s request, which we did not intend to abide. We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account. We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia – related investigations. (He did so two weeks later.) The Deputy Attorney General’s role was then filled in an acting capacity by a United States Attorney, who would also not be long in the role.

Nevertheless, a few days later Comey asked AG Sessions to run interference for him against the President, but Sessions didn’t:

I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.

On March 30, Comey called the acting AG to pass the buck–it didn’t work:

I called Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (AG Sessions had by then recused himself on all Russia – related matters), to report the substance of the call from the President, and said I would await his guidance. I did not hear back from him before the President called me again two weeks later.

What do we learn from this?

First that Comey briefed his bosses when it suited him, and kept them in the dark when he made a political judgement that there was no percentage in having them in the loop.

Second, that at least regarding the Valentine’s Day meeting with Trump, Comey was talking to the wrong higher-ups. If Comey was really afraid of being left alone in a room with Trump, he should have talked to Vice President Pence, the one man in the administration who understands the dangers of one-on-one meetings.

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Everyone Else is Linking to This

So I guess I will join the stampede.

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‘The Loneliness of Donald Trump’

This week’s must-read is Rebecca Solnit’s The Loneliness of Donald Trump.

Far briefer, and thus more reliant on being evocative than detailed, Solnit’s essay nonetheless invites comparison with Garry Wills’s book Nixon Agonisties: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, by which I mean high praise indeed. (Recall that Wills wrote, “First-generation millionaires tend to give us libraries. The second and third generations think they should give us themselves.”)

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“He Puts the Pluto in Plutocrat”

“Tin Foil Hat” by Todd Rundgren and Donald Fagen. Lyrics via Down With Tyranny:

He’s coming down the escalator
With a girl from east of here
He wants to make the country greater
We’ve got nothing left to fear

Because the man in the tin foil hat
Is sitting on the throne tonight
It kinda feels like coup de tat
But it’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that

‘Cause the man in the tin foil hat
Is tweeting like a teenage girl
He puts the Pluto in plutocrat
It’s gonna be a yuge yuge yuge new world

He hasn’t got the time for losers
Unless they do as he commands
He’s writing checks to his accusers
With those tiny little hands

Because the man in the tin foil hat
Is sitting on the throne tonight
It kinda feels like coup de tat
But it’s gonna be a yuge yuge yuge new world

‘Cause the man in the tin foil hat
Is gonna drain the swamp tonight
And fill it with up with alternative facts
It’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that

‘Cause the man in the tin foil hat
Is tweeting like a teenage girl
He puts the Pluto in plutocrat
It’s gonna be a yuge yuge yuge new world

Because the man in the tin foil hat
Is sitting on the throne tonight
It kinda feels like coup de tat
It’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that.

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Pity the Fiction Writers

You cannot make this stuff up.

This is not a photoshop, but a genuine pix released by the Saudi Press Agency, memorializing the moment when Donald Trump joined Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz at the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. Video, if you care.

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Lone Wolf Journalism

So much of what I read about Trump is same-y: This is Not Normal; Is he past his use-by date?; Comey; GOP will never do what is needed; Comey; Cabinet will never do what is needed; GOP wavers; Is this the beginning of the end? and so on. I don’t myself feel any need to add to this buzz, necessary precondition though it may be before the nation leaps into the acid vat of division that is an impeachment. I don’t even feel much need to link to it, it’s so readily available everywhere.

Then there is Martin Longman’s Trump is Being Taken Apart, Step By Step; I’m not sure I agree with it, but it is at least different from the pack. Here’s a taste:

The ordinary way to minimize the damage from Trump’s leak would have been to quarantine knowledge that it had happened at all. This is for a variety of reasons. First, while there’s a fear the Russians will help ISIS track down the source of the information, there’s no certainty they will do so. Telling the whole world what happened almost assures that the informant’s life is at risk. Second, intelligence officers don’t want possible sources to know that the president can’t be trusted not to leak to our adversaries because it makes it difficult to recruit them. Advertising this makes their jobs immeasurably harder. Third, by telling the Israeli public what happened, it makes it more challenging for the Israeli government to share information with us. It would have been easier to patch things up with the Israelis if we had limited knowledge of what happened to a few key, reliable figures in their intelligence services and their cabinet. Yet, the intelligence community immediately revealed what Trump had done, and that the Israelis were the aggrieved party.

Another way of putting this is that the damage control plan from the beginning showed no signs of being an ordinary kind of plan. Every step is counterproductive. None of it makes any sense unless the real damage control plan is to remove Trump from power. If the conclusion is that the problem isn’t limited to a single blunder, but is systemic, any damage control plan that goes no further than triage and cleanup won’t be adequate.

I’ve been writing about this slow-moving coup in various ways for months now because its not well understood and it’s the most consequential thing going on in this country and the world right now.

Worth a look.

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