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Cleaning Up After Trump

Mother Jones

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From the Wall Street Journal:

Jim Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as defense secretary, said he plans to assess the fight against Islamic State in the country and that the U.S. isn’t there to take its oil. “I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have paid for our gas and oil all along and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi the day before leaving for Iraq. “We are not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”

So far, Mattis and VP Mike Pence have been fanning out across the world to assure our allies that President Trump thinks NATO is great; that America’s support for Europe is “unwavering”; that Trump will be tough on Russia; and that we’re not going to take Iraq’s oil. In other words, basically the opposite of everything Trump himself has said over the past year.

This is becoming the signature of the Trump administration. At home, Trump says something stupid, and Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway gamely go out to clean up the mess and claim that Trump didn’t really mean what he said. Abroad, Mattis and Pence and Rex Tillerson play the same role. They’re like the guys who follow the elephants at a parade.

I’ll bet they didn’t think this was how they’d be spending their time as some of the most powerful people in the world.

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Cleaning Up After Trump

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Here Are Your Highlights of Today’s Trump Press Meltdown

Mother Jones

Donald Trump went full Sarah Palin today at his press conference. It was glorious. I think you have to watch it to really get the full effect, but here are a few highlights.

First off, the word of the day is mess:

To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess….I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess….ISIS has spread like cancer — another mess I inherited….And you look at Schumer and the mess that he’s got over there and they have nothing going.

Fact check: Delusional. Trump inherited an economy in pretty good shape. Crime has steadily decreased over the past decade. ISIS is losing ground and close to defeat. Illegal immigration has been stable for many years. Test scores for schoolkids are up. Fewer than a dozen American soldiers have died in combat in the past year. Obamacare has cut the number of people without health insurance almost in half. The budget deficit is down to 3 percent of GDP. After years of stagnation, wages are finally starting to go up. Unemployment and inflation are both low.

I put it out before the American people, got 306 electoral college votes….270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.

Fact check: Also delusionial. He got 304 electoral votes, and Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Obama all did better.

We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare….I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our rallies with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people our that representatives are representing.

Fact check: Plausible! Trump and the Republicans in Congress probably do think they represent only Republicans.

The leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

Fact check: Huh?

If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?

The reporting is fake. Look, look…You know what it is? Here’s the thing. The public isn’t — you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don’t know if it’s true or false because they’re not involved. I’m involved. I’ve been involved with this stuff all my life. But I’m involved. So I know when you’re telling the truth or when you’re not. I just see many, many untruthful things.

Fact check: True. Trump almost certainly does see many, many untruthful things.

I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred. I don’t watch it any more….Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit….Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I’m amazed by it.

Fact check: Schrödinger’s cat. Trump both watches and doesn’t watch CNN.

We had Hillary Clinton try and do a reset. We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country. You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons like lots of things are done with uranium including some bad things.

Fact check: Half true. No, Hillary Clinton didn’t give Russia any uranium. (She was one of many who approved a deal for the Russian atomic energy agency to buy a Canadian company that controls 20 percent of the US uranium reserves. But none of it can exported outside the US.) However, it is true that bad things can be done with uranium.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about some serious issues that have come up in the last week that you have had to deal with as president of the United States. You mentioned the vessel — the spy vessel off the coast of the United States.

TRUMP: Not good.

QUESTION: There was a ballistic missile test that many interpret as a violation of an agreement between the two countries; and a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer.

TRUMP: Not good.

….QUESTION: So when you say they’re not good, do you mean that they are…

TRUMP: Who did I say is not good?

QUESTION: No, I read off the three things that have recently happened. Each one of them you said they’re not good.

TRUMP: No, it’s not good, but they happened.

QUESTION: But do they damage the relationship? Do they undermine…

TRUMP: They all happened recently.

Fact check: True. These are all things that happened recently.

JAKE TURX, A REPORTER FOR A SMALL ULTRA-ORTHODOX JEWISH PUBLICATION: Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren. You are their zaidy. However, what we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it… There has been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to…

TRUMP: he said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not, its not, not — not a simple question, not a fair question. OK sit down, I understand the rest of your question.

So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person….See, he lied about — he was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive.

I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu yesterday, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it. So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.

Fact check: Incoherent. Turx explicitly tried to assure Trump that nobody thought he was anti-Semitic, but Trump’s skin is so thin that he immediately decided Turx was calling him a racist and an anti-Semite. I wonder why?

By the way, the entire point of this press conference seemed to be directed at one thing: accusing the press of being horrible and dishonest. This came up in nearly every Trump answer. This is a great strategy for shoring up his base, of course. As near as I can tell, conservatives all thought this dumpster fire of a press conference was a terrific performance.

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Here Are Your Highlights of Today’s Trump Press Meltdown

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Why Trump Can’t Come Clean on Russia

Mother Jones

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There is an old chestnut that gets tossed out whenever a scandal hits: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. The saying traces back to Watergate. Sen. Howard Baker, the top Republican on the Senate Watergate committee, once noted, “It is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.” This week, following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, NBC News’ Chuck Todd was one of many who quipped, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” And that was certainly a significant element of the Flynn imbroglio: Flynn had lied about his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, concealing the fact that they had discussed the sanctions President Barack Obama had just levied on Russia as punishment for its covert efforts to swing the 2016 election to Trump. But in this case the bigger scandal at hand is not a cover-up. It is the thing itself: the connections between the Trump camp and Moscow during the campaign, when Vladimir Putin was trying to subvert American democracy.

Certainly, the Trump campaign has strived mightily to smother this potentially explosive scandal. Here’s a partial account.

* Days after the election, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview that “there were contacts” between the Trump team and the Kremlin. He noted, “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage.” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks immediately said the campaign had “no contact with Russian officials” before the election.

* At Trump’s January 11 press conference, a reporter asked him, “Can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?” Trump did not reply. But after the press conference ended and Trump was leaving, he did answer that query with a firm “no.”

* On January 15, on Face the Nation, John Dickerson asked incoming Vice President Mike Pence, “Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” Pence declared, “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

* On February 14, at the daily White House briefing, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked press secretary Sean Spicer whether any Trump associates were in touch with the Russian government prior to the election. Spicer replied, “There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.” That contorted statement was clearly meant as a no.

The drift is clear. Whenever queried about this highly sensitive matter, Trump and his minions have said there were no contacts between anyone in his crew and the Putin regime during the 2016 campaign. This is a cover-up.

There is evidence that Trump associates did interact with Russian officials during the campaign. The Washington Post story that broke open the Flynn affair a few days ago also reported that the Russian ambassador had told the newspaper he had been communicating with Flynn during the campaign. At that point, Flynn was Trump’s senior national security adviser. (As such, Flynn attended in mid-August the first briefing Trump received as the GOP nominee from the US intelligence community, during which Trump and Flynn were told that US intelligence agencies had concluded Russia was behind the hacking and leaking that targeted Democrats.) And on Tuesday night, the New York Times reported that intelligence intercepts indicated that several Trump associates had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”

In late October, I reported that a former foreign counterintelligence officer had sent memos to the FBI indicating that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” The memos also claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him,” and that Russian intelligence had compiled a dossier on Hillary Clinton based on “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls.”

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.

At a minimum, it seems that Trump associates—at least Flynn—were secretly interacting with the Putin regime as it was plotting to subvert American democracy to help Trump win the White House. A key question is obvious: What did they discuss? The darkest possibility is that they talked about the Kremlin assault on the US election. Short of that, might Flynn or others have encouraged Putin’s clandestine operation by signaling that Moscow would have an easier time with a Trump administration than with a Clinton administration? Were there any winks or nods? After all, in late July, Trump called on Russia to hack Clinton. Whatever was discussed, any Trump associate who spoke with Russian officials during the summer or fall of the campaign had reason to know that he or she was interacting with a member of a regime that was actively attempting to undermine the election in a manner beneficial to Trump.

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. Only Trump and the people involved can know for sure. But investigations of the Russian contacts now being conducted by the FBI and the congressional intelligence committees—if they are mounted effectively and yield public results—may eventually allow us to see the full calculation. In the meantime, the public can justifiably conclude that when it comes to Trump-Russia connections during the campaign, the Trump team has been covering up for very good reasons.

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Why Trump Can’t Come Clean on Russia

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CNN: US Intelligence Has Confirmed Parts of the Trump-Russia Memos

Mother Jones

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US investigators have confirmed parts of the 35-page batch of memos compiled by a former British spy, CNN reported Friday afternoon. The memos, first written about by Mother Jones in October 2016, contained allegations of collusion between officials working for Donald Trump during the presidential campaign and Russian government operatives, and allegations that the Russian government was working to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and boost Trump.

Friday’s CNN report says investigators have confirmed that some of the conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian officials occurred on the same days and from the same locations alleged in the memos.

“The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement ‘greater confidence’ in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents,” CNN reported.

From the story:

None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.

But the intercepts do confirm that some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier, according to the officials. CNN has not confirmed whether any content relates to then-candidate Trump.

US intelligence officials emphasize the conversations were solely between foreign nationals, including those in or tied to the Russian government, intercepted during routine intelligence gathering.

Some of the individuals involved in the intercepted communications were known to the US intelligence community as “heavily involved” in collecting information damaging to Hillary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump, two of the officials tell CNN.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told CNN, “We continue to be disgusted by CNN’s fake news reporting.” In a subsequent call, Spicer told the CNN reporters that their story was “more fake news,” and said it was “about time CNN focused on the success the President has had bringing back jobs, protecting the nation, and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations.”

CNN’s report on Friday is the first public corroboration by the US intelligence community that any reports contained in memos were accurate, but CNN’s sources did not comment on or confirm the specific allegations relating to alleged contact between Russian officials and any US citizens, including people close to Trump.

CNN had previously reported that the heads of the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency, along with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, briefed Trump and former President Barack Obama on the contents of the memos in early January.

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CNN: US Intelligence Has Confirmed Parts of the Trump-Russia Memos

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Nine People Say Mike Flynn Lied About His Phone Calls With the Russian Ambassador

Mother Jones

The routine lying by the Trump administration is just beyond belief. Mike Flynn has consistently denied that he talked to the Russian ambassador in December about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia, but apparently he did exactly that. Here are Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post tonight:

Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.” On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

….The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence…Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president. “Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time,” said a former official.

A third official put it more bluntly, saying that either Flynn had misled Pence or that Pence misspoke. A spokesman for Pence did not respond to a request for comment. The sanctions in question have so far remained in place.

Nine officials! And every one of them says Flynn explicitly talked about the sanctions that Obama levied on Russia as retaliation for their cyber-hacking during the campaign. The message: don’t worry about it. We’ve got your back.

Do these guys ever tell the truth? About anything?

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Nine People Say Mike Flynn Lied About His Phone Calls With the Russian Ambassador

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