In the past several days, Trump has repeated this statement about the U.S. intelligence agencies assessment of Russian cyber attacks:
“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership,” Mr. Trump said … “I believe in our agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.”
What Trump is referring to is his appointment for CIA Director, former congressman Mike Pompeo, who is politicizing the intelligence agency on behalf of Trump. Trump’s CIA director keeps doing controversial — and suspiciously pro-Trump — things:
The Intercept just broke a pretty big story: CIA Director Mike Pompeo reportedly met with the purveyor of a disputed theory about the internal Democratic National Committee emails that were released last year — a theory that runs counter to the intelligence community’s own long-standing conclusions about the matter.
It’s not the first example of Pompeo doing something that has been put under microscope. But there is a common thread running through just about every example: Pompeo doing and saying questionable things involving Russia — and those questionable things tend to lean in a pro-Trump direction.
The most recent example is Pompeo’s meeting with William Binney, a former intelligence official who argues that the DNC hack wasn’t a hack at all, but rather a leak from within.
Binney, of course, isn’t the only one who has cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusions; so too has Trump, who has at times suggested the very idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election was “fake news.”
And the kicker in the Intercept’s story is that Trump, according to Binney and another source, just so happens to be the one who suggested the meeting:
In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said.
The meeting was confirmed by two other sources, while the CIA has declined to comment on Pompeo’s schedule, as it generally does.
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The implications here are pretty big: a U.S. president telling his CIA director to meet with someone pitching what the intelligence community basically regards as a conspiracy theory. The intelligence community’s report on Russian interference, from way back in January, is clear that it believes this was a hack:
In July 2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June 2016.
The [Russian foreign intelligence service, or GRU] probably began cyber operations aimed at the US election by March 2016. We assess that the GRU operations resulted in the compromise of the personal email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures. By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC.
Binney has occasionally been a guest on Fox News, where it seems Trump may have seen him, and where host Sean Hannity once seized upon the inside-job theory and tied it — dubiously — to the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. The appeal of Binney’s theory to Trump is clear: It suggests Russia’s interference wasn’t nearly so broad or influential as the intelligence community contends.
Another FAUX News (Trump TV) conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and his propaganda minister Sean Hannity have been harping on in recent weeks is the bogus Uranium One conspiracy theory. The Twitter-troll-in-chief and Trump TV have been pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to politicize the Justice Department and appoint a special counsel to investigate the conspiracy theories from the right-wing fever swamps.
Trump’s inappropriate and unethical pressure on the independence of the Justice Department to use its power to investigate his political opponents, Trump Shatters Longstanding Norms by Pressing for Clinton Investigation, has resulted in this: Justice Dept. to Weigh Inquiry Into Clinton Foundation:
The Justice Department said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate political rivals President Trump has singled out for scrutiny, including Hillary Clinton.
The department, in a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee, said the prosecutors would examine allegations that donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to a 2010 decision by the Obama administration to allow a Russian nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that owned access to uranium in the United States, and other issues.
The letter appeared to be a direct response to Mr. Trump’s statement on Nov. 3, when he said he was disappointed with his beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and that longstanding unproven allegations about the Clintons and the Obama administration should be investigated.
Any such investigation would raise questions about the independence of federal investigations under Mr. Trump. Since Watergate, the Justice Department has largely operated independently of political influence on cases related to the president’s opponents.
Mr. Trump’s statement galvanized conservative news outlets — like Fox News and Breitbart News — which have since beaten the drum for a special prosecutor to be appointed.
It is only in authoritarian regimes where an autocratic leader uses the power of government to criminally investigate his political opponents. The U.S. is now offically a banana republic.
Then there is the hollowing out of the State Department by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, because in a Trumpism autocracy, Trump: ‘I’m the only one that matters’.
The New York Times reports, State Department to Offer Buyouts in Effort to Cut Staff:
The State Department will soon offer a $25,000 buyout to diplomats and staff members who quit or take early retirements by April, officials confirmed on Friday.
The decision is part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s continuing effort to cut the ranks of diplomats and Civil Service officers despite bipartisan resistance in Congress. Mr. Tillerson’s goal is to reduce a department of nearly 25,000 full-time American employees by 8 percent, which amounts to 1,982 people.
To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place. Those efforts have crippled morale worldwide.
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Because the buyouts are voluntary, many who take the money and leave are likely to have skills or be in jobs that Mr. Tillerson is hoping to maintain or increase in a reorganized department.
Instead, the cutbacks are meant to make a down payment on the 31 percent budget cut that President Trump proposed for the department this year. That Congress rejected that suggestion and largely maintained the department’s budget has not affected Mr. Tillerson’s plans, a fact that is likely to infuriate many on Capitol Hill.
“These actions are going to harm our security and our ability to lead on the global stage,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In September, when the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill to maintain the department’s funding at prior levels, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, issued a statement, saying, “Now is not the time for retreat, now is the time to double down on diplomacy and development.”
But Mr. Trump has repeatedly indicated that he wants fewer diplomats.
Asked about the many vacancies at the State Department, Mr. Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News: “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”
Pressed about critical positions like the assistant secretary of state, Mr. Trump responded in a statement that has since reverberated around the State Department. “The one that matters is me,” he said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”
Last, but not least, Trump and the Tea-Publican controlled Senate are corrupting the third branch of government, the federal judiciary, by appointing ideologues and Trump cronies who are unqualified to serve as judges on the federal bench.
Dylan Matthews writes, This unqualified nominee is just the beginning of Trump’s efforts to remake the courts:
Brett Talley is a very unusual judicial nominee.
Talley, 36, a Trump nominee for the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama has never tried a case in his life (he has written more horror novels than he’s tried cases). In fact, he has only practiced law for three years, spending the bulk of his time since law school as a clerk or working for Republican campaigns. The American Bar Association unanimously ruled him “unqualified,” only the fourth such rating since 1989 (and the second under President Donald Trump). He pledged his “support to the NRA [National Rifle Association]; financially, politically, and intellectually” in a 2013 blog post and told the Senate Judiciary Committee that despite the pledge, he would not commit to recuse himself from gun control cases.
Talley declined to disclose to Congress, when asked for potential conflicts of interests, that his wife, Ann Donaldson, is not only a White House staffer but chief of staff to the White House counsel, whose office is in charge of picking judicial nominees. (A White House official told the New York Times that Donaldson wasn’t involved in the judicial nomination process, and thus in picking her own husband.)
The Senate Judiciary Committee nevertheless approved Talley on a party-line vote. And while his nomination is unusual — and has gotten attention — given Talley’s inexperience and multiple apparent conflicts of interest, the context is arguably more important. The Talley nomination is part of a bigger effort by Trump to quickly and completely overhaul the federal judiciary.
Trump has more vacancies to fill than any president in recent memory and has been filling them at a faster pace than other presidents early in their terms. If he fills them all, especially with young nominees like Talley, it could alter the balance of power on federal lower courts for decades to come.
Steve Benen writes, Senate GOP keeps endorsing Trump’s unqualified judicial nominees (excerpts):
In the Obama era, for example, literally none of the Democratic president’s nominees received a “not qualified” rating.
Donald Trump, however, less than a year into his first term, has already sent four “not qualified” judicial nominees to the Senate.
Donald Trump decided that [Brett J. Talley] deserves a lifetime position on the federal bench, which seems awfully difficult to defend. But what strikes me as even more important is the fact that literally every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Talley’s nomination. Not one GOP senator on the panel felt compelled to say, “You know, I like conservative judicial nominees as much as the next Republican, but I can’t go along with this one. We need to have some standards.”
Instead, Trump sent an unqualified nominee to Capitol Hill, and Senate Republicans reached for their rubber stamp.
I continue to think this is the most under-appreciated aspect of the Trump presidency: judicial nominees are the only area in which the Republican White House is actually succeeding in getting what it wants.
“The judge story is an untold story; nobody wants to talk about it,” Trump recently said alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “But when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge – but 40 years out.”
The “judge story,” as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, refers to the Republican campaign to approve as many far-right jurists to lifetime positions on the federal bench as they can, as quickly as they can hold votes.
And on this, when the president says “nobody wants to talk about it,” he has a point: Trump and Senate Republicans are shifting the judiciary in a radical direction, which has the potential to shape the American landscape for several decades, and much of the public probably has no idea that this is happening.
People probably don’t know about Amy Coney Barrett’s record on reproductive rights. Or Thomas Farr’s record on voter suppression. Or Jeff Mateer’s extremism on LGBTQ issues. Or Greg Katsas’ Trump loyalties.
Or the fact that, collectively, they’ll receive unanimous support from Senate Republicans.
With Trump’s boast in mind, let’s try to remember that 40 years is a very long time.
America may survive Trump. But it may not survive a federal bench corrupted by ideologues and Trump cronies with a lifetime tenure.