Thursday, June 8, 2017

A lot happens in four days . . .

There's no way to catch up on all that has happened in these last four days -- or in any random four days since Donald Trump took office in the White House.   So I'm going to throw in a few choice bits and then briefly cover the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today.

1.  Everybody has been advising Trump to hire a personal lawyer to defend him in the Russia investigation.   Reportedly he was turned down by at least four of the big name Washington lawyers, one of whom reportedly had this pithy explanation:   "He doesn't pay, and he won't listen."    Chris Hayes (MSNBC) reported on at least three past instances where Trump's own lawyers had sued him for non-payment for their services.

2.  Thanks to the New York Times columnist David Brooks for this.  Trump's top advisers H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn co-authored an essay in the Wall Street Journal, which described President Trump's world view thus:   "The world is not aglobal communitybut an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”   Brooks elaborates, saying that, in this view, "selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. . . .  It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath. . . .  [It] explains why the Trump people are suspicious of any cooperative global arrangement, like NATO and the various trade agreements. It helps explain why Trump pulled out of the Paris global-warming accord. . . .  In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything.  Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest."

President Obama's National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, countered with a New York Times op-ed essay, "To Be Great, America Must Be Good," in which she took the exact opposite stance.   Rice lamented not only the humanitarian crippling that will result from, say, the 30% cuts for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, but also the abdication of our world leadership position -- including our moral leadership and emphasis of human rights.   By failing to affirm our mutual defense commitment in NATO's Article 5, and by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. sends a signal to the world that is already having an effect in places like Egypt and Bahrain who can rightly assume that we won't bother them about how they treat their own people, when they jail journalists and assassinate dissidents.   That goes for Putin, too.

3.  Remember that $110 billion arms sale deal Trump bragged about signing with the Saudis as one of the great successes of his trip?   It seems that he was a little premature in his boasting.    There are no contracts, only letters of interest or intent.   Things the Saudis might be interested in buying over time;   but they didn't actually promise to buy anything.  It's now being widely said:   "The Saudis played Trump like a fiddle."

4.  Columnist Maureen Dowd is usually a bit too snarky for my taste, but I do enjoy her barbs that skewer the high and almighty -- including her recent reference to Trump as having "cemented his image as the high-chair king."

5.  Four top national security officials testified (or, rather, didn't testify) for the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, prior to James Comey's much-anticipated testimony on Thursday.   The four were:  Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence;  Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency;  Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General;  and Andrew McCabe, Acting FBI Director.  They all declined to give any testimony in this open hearing about any conversations with President Trump.   Senators did elicit confirmation that the president had not invoked executive privilege to prevent their testimony and that the substance of the testimony was not itself classified;  nor had Special Prosecutor Mueller asked them not to.   It was more that they all felt constrained for other reasons not to testify in an open hearing but indicated that they would in closed session.

Those last two points were especially the stance of Coats and Rogers, who come at it from a counterintelligence perspective.   But Rosenstein and McCabe (from Justice and FBI) seemed more concerned not to interfere with Special Counsel Mueller's investigation.   I'm sure we'll hear much analysis about what this means.   One thing I had read beforehand was that not revealing anything substantive that Trump said might suggest not wanting to mess up a criminal investigation.   Some post-hearing pundit analysts suggested that, since Coats and Rogers work directly for the president, they could simply be protecting their jobs.  No one suggested that they would not ultimately testify.  It was obviously frustrating to the senators not to get any answers today;  but from an investigation-junky's perspective (like me), that possible meaning just adds to the anticipatory interest.


PS:   The immediate background to the hearing was that the morning Washington Post had just published its latest leak-based article, quoting a source saying that Coats had been approached by Trump, who asked him to intervene to stop the Russian investigation.   Sen. John McCain ruefully pointed out the irony that the morning paper had described Coat's meeting with Trump in great detail, but Coats wouldn't himself talk about it to the senate committee charged with oversight of the agency he heads.

PPS:   The Comey hearing begins at 10 am on Thursday.   You can watch it live on one of the CSPAN stations;  and several of the cable channels are planning to carry it live as well.   CSPAN will be just straight filming, start to finish;  the cables will have their commentators and commercials as well.

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