Saturday, April 8, 2017

Melania's official portrait -- those fingers!

Melania Trump
Melania Trump's official portrait was unveiled a few days ago.   I must say that it is in good taste, with the beautiful, but aloof, Melania in a discreet black dress, which serves as the perfect, non-distracting backdrop for her hands, highlighted to display the yu-u-ge diamond on her left hand.

But, in truth, what stood out for me were her artfully arranged, perfectly manicured, and very, very long fingers.  LOL  -- Ralph

What does Trump's bombing Syria mean?

My late night blog writing expressed general approval of Trump's decision to launch Tomahawk missiles in a strike on the Syrian air base from which Assad launched his devastating poison gas attack on his own civilians.   I especially was gratified to see that the Trump national defense team seemed to be ready and that it followed the regular process, with the appropriate people in the right places, in analyzing the problem and formulating options for the president's final decision.

That is not to say that I have become a war hawk nor a Trump supporter -- far from it.  I'm just relieved that he is more or less following regular order, rather than ordering an attack without even consulting his defense team.

Honestly, I hope that is the last bomb we drop on Syria.  I don't want to see U.S. ground troops in Syria.   I hope that the airstrike will be taken as the message I believe it was intended to send, both to Assad and to Putin, and that this will lead further to a negotiated, diplomatic solution to the Syrian calamity.

But I have causes for concern even within this general approval.   One is the rapid shift in Trump's position and what that means.  This is a 180 degree change in U.S. policy against becoming militarily involved in Syria.

Trump has previously opposed the U.S. emphasizing human rights in our negotiations with other nations, whether it be geopolitical or trade.   Just days before, he heaped praise on his White House guest, strongman and military dictator of Egypt, Gen. el Sisi -- "We agree on so many things. . . . I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sisi.  He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation."

El-Sisi seized power in a coup from a democratically elected president, had himself elected in a fixed election where he won 96% of the vote;  had over 1,000 protesters killed in the streets, holds 50,000 political prisoners, and has decimated press freedom and human rights in Egypt.

What changed Trump's mind from previously only considering the transactional value of a position?  In his press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Trump commented on the videos showing the horrible suffering of the civilians, especially the children, who were victims of the Syrian dictator's chemical attack.    He was obviously emotionally shaken.  He spoke of a line being crossed and said, "My attitude toward Assad and Syria has changed . . . very much."

A pattern is  emerging, and I am beginning to think that Donald Trump may have a heart after all -- if you can only penetrate the rhino-skin-thick defense he has and put him in contact with people in need, sometimes he gets it.  I don't want to over-state what may be only a glimmer, but I think those photographs touched him in a new way that got through;  and he decided in that moment to act.  Fortunately, his instinct to act was tempered and shaped by the analytic and planning process of his defense team, who then presented him with options.

Even if it is only a glimmer, it's on the same side of the balance-scales as the demotion of Bannon's influence.   This action, in effect a defiance of Putin, also suggests that he is not so beholden -- or so besmitten -- that he is unable to take an opposing stand.   This action moves him away from Bannon's nationalistic America-First sentiments and speaks more to a globalist perspective.

So, let's see what comes next.   There are other problems in this airstrike.   Is it legal in U.S. law?   In international law?  [It does violate the 2013 agreement Assad made with us and Russia when they supposedly turned over all their chemical weapons for disposal by Russia.]  Will congress authorize it?   What happens next in Syria?   What is our long range plan, or is there one at all?  Will we send in large numbers of troops?   Will we get involved in regime change and nation-rebuilding?   We have hundreds of adviser-troops in Syria;  will this put them in danger of retaliation?  And what about all the children and babies of the Syrian refugees that Trump has barred from seeking a home in our country?   Aren't they worth helping?

Superficial to those questions are ones about Trump's motivations.   Was this just an impulsive, emotional response to horrific visual images?   Was there any strategic  analysis, or was it perhaps for political reasons?   Did the fact that the leader of China was there at Mar-a Lago, where all this was going on behind closed doors, have anything to do with the decision?   Was Trump showing off for President Xi, making a power statement about his willingness to use force in front of the other superpower in the world today?

What I feel positive about:   (1)  Trump has shown that he is not totally immune to having a human reaction, that he does have some capacity for compassion for human suffering and can be moved by it and even let it guide his presidential decisions.    (2)  He seems gradually to be peeling off the worst influences on his team (Flynn is gone;  Bannon may be on the way out.)

But do I feel positive about Trump's improving?   Don't we want him to just get worse so we can get him out of there?   Now there's a dilemma.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Rep. Nunes steps down as investigator

Now that he is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for charges that he may have revealed classified information, Rep. Devin Nunes has finally stepped down from leading the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia's influence in our election and the possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

Nunes says the change is temporary and applies only to this investigation.   He strongly denies the charges against him and says that he will remain Chair of the Intelligence Committee.

Foreign crises looming in North Korea and in Syria. *AND* Trump's team responds with limited military strike

This post began with the question of whether the Trump team is ready to handle these geopolitical and military crises.   And before this got posted, we had seen the answer, in terms of Syria.   Here is the way I wrote this, as it was developing.
It's a vital question, whether the Trump team is ready.  Of some 500+ major positions in the administration that require Senate confirmation, only 21 have been filled.  Deputy Secretary and many Assistant Secretary positions are still empty at both the Defense and State Departments.

I've been amazed that none of the world's bad actors has taken this chaotic transition period as an opportunity to test this inexperienced, inadequately staffed administration.   This may be that time, now.

On the verge of Trump's first big meeting with the Chinese leader this week, North Korea's Kim Jong-un has just launched another ballistic missile into the sea between Korea and Japan -- along with provocative statements about their now having nuclear bomb capability.

Trump has responded with a little tough talk about 'time to get tough with North Korea'.   And Tillerson responded to a question about it with:  "The time for talk is over."   Trump is trying to put the pressure on China to rein them in;  but he also said, "If China doesn't act, we will.   That's all I can tell you.  We will act."

Half way around the world, Syria's President Bashar Assad is assumed to be the one who decided to use poison gas on his own people, including children, two days ago.   This is a particularly horrible gas that causes terrible suffering and death.   The pictures were agonizing to look at.

Apparently it got to Trump emotionally as nothing like it has done before, and he indicated that it had changed his thinking about Assad and the Syrian crisis.   Before, he had focused on ISIS and went along with Russia at least as far as agreeing to leave Assad in power to stabilize the country.

However, after this gas attack, Trump said:  "I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. . . .  If the world changes, I go the same way. . . . What happened yesterday is unacceptable to me. . . .  When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal . . . that crosses a line."

Trump is in a difficult spot here.   If he attacks Assad's forces in Syria, he will in essence be attacking Putin, who is supporting and defending Assad in this war.  In fact, Assad's remaining in power is largely due to his close relations with Putin and support from Russia.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U. N. Ambassador Nikki Haley both issued strong denunciations of the attack and Moscow's role in the conflict.

Suddenly, Donald Trump is learning that the world is a very complex place -- and that he is, or should be, the key figure world-wide in how the world responds to these two threatening crises.

Will he turn to his experienced military advisers?   His National Security Adviser, his Secretary of Defense, his Director of National Security, and his Secretary of Homeland Security are all military generals or admirals -- as is, of course, his Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   Or will he turn to his slightly tarnished Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, who has no foreign policy experience?

Let's hope it's the former, although I'd rather they weren't all military people.   His Secretary of State is from the business world, although he has experience on the global stage as CEO of a multi-national corporation with experience dealing with many foreign governments.

Trump will need a lot of help.   When asked by a reporter whether he would target the Iranian and Hezbollah forces who are fighting alongside Assad against both Syrian rebels and the Islamic State, he was not equipped to answer the question.  It was obvious, although he said some words that were tangentially related to that part of the world.

Back to the original point about a possible pivot by Trump to considering the human factor in his foreign policy decisions,  Let's remember that he is  characteristically influenced by the last person that he has talked to.  In this instance, he had just had a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, who is emerging as a moderating influence in Middle East politics.   Jordan has taken in more refugees from Syria than any other country.   And then Trump saw these pictures.   That was the context of his remarks.

If he next has a meeting with war hawks -- or if he talks to Putin -- who knows what his next position might be?


PS:   Thursday evening, we learned that the U.S. had launched a round of about 60 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from which we think the sarin gas attack came.   Excellent discussion by Rachel Maddow and her guests, including military experts, concluded, based on preliminary evidence, that this was most likely a single attack meant to send a signal to Assad and to Russia that we will no longer stand by for such inhumane actions.   It does not appear to be the beginning of a major, ongoing military campaign.   Much will depend on Russia's response and whether they will pull back from their support of Assad, or whether it could lead to a diplomatic solution.  Reporters don't know at this point whether Trump warned Russia, whether any Russian ground troops might have been killed.

As far as the decision-making process was concerned, I am greatly reassured in that it seems that the adults were in charge, meaning our military leaders who presented President Trump with options and helped him understand this complex situation.  In other words, this seems to have been a good decision -- a limited, but forceful reaction to the humanitarian crisis in the midst of this ongoing genocidal war against his own people by the Syrian president and his military.  At this point it seems to have been a strong message sent, not a rash war-starting blunder.

Some of Rachel's experts emphasized that Russia's air force is nothing compared with ours.   It assuaged my fear that this might provoke a retaliation from them, but the experts don't think Russia can afford to  get into a fight with us.

Just as I was wrapping this up around midnight, I got an urgent email from claiming that Trump had ordered bombing in Syria that would be killing innocent civilians.   They urge me to sign a petition to congress "saying NO to bombing the people of Syria."  From my information -- using liberal sites like Rachel Maddow and HuffingtonPost -- I think this is way overblown and a knee-jerk reaction.   These were carefully targeted attacks on a single air base and planes on the ground, using Tomahawk missiles that home in on intended targets.

It's one thing to oppose any military involvement in the Syrian civil war.  It's another to fire off an ill-informed accusation that's not borne out by facts, at least as we know them now.   To me, it reduces the credibility -- and the influence -- of to make false charges.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Further thoughts on Bannon getting axed from the National Security Council

Bannon's own spin on his removal from the National Security Council is that he was only there temporarily to keep watch on Michael Flynn.

Of course, this completely ignores logic;  because, if there was concern about the top man on the council, why also remove the #2 and #3 most important people on the council, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence?   Which was done by the same order signed by Trump.   And why appoint Flynn as DNS in the first place?

That's the problem with this Trump team.   They don't think through their spin strategy, if they even have one.   So often, their made-up explanation contradicts another part of whatever they're trying to spin.   I guess that's how you create chaos -- get multiple things all spinning in different directions.

Trump doesn't realize that his base may love this kind of macho, crazy talk;  but it just insults the intelligence of thinking people, to whom he looks like the superficial, unprincipled, impulsive, irrational fool that he is.

Here's how chaotic the inside workings are and why removing Bannon from this position is so important:    It's been said by multiple sources that Trump didn't understand what he was doing when he signed the original directive that put Bannon on the Principles Committee of the NSC and removed from it the Chair of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence.

It effectively put Flynn and Bannon in charge and got rid of people that might know anything -- or have the right judgment in a crisis.  So this reversal suggests that voices of reason and experience have finally penetrated Trump's thinking enough for him to put adults back in charge.

We're lucky that this got changed as it did now and not after an international crisis.  Apparently Bannon was the mastermind behind the whole Nunes-and-the-midnight-run to see the selectively mined "evidence" to vindicate Trump's ridiculous claim about wiretapping.  

Instead, it exposed the real reason Bannon insisted that his "mole" be left in the NSC so he could carry out this inside job for him.   It was Bannon and Kushner who pleaded for this young staff member that McMaster had wanted to fire weeks ago before this stunt materialized.   McMaster wanted to fire him because he was not qualified and because he didn't trust him.   And he was right on target.  Now McMasters was in a good position to say to Trump:  "I tried to warn you."

 The whole escapade now looks more like a Keystone Cops routine than something that should be happening inside the National Security archives of intelligence and in the serious investigations of a congressional intelligence committee.

Underneath all these details:   What could possibly explain why a president of the United States would be on the opposing side to an investigation into whether a foreign, adversarial power had tried to interfere with and undermine the very foundation of our democracy?

It's not as though this was out of left field.  Putin has been doing this all over Europe, and our intelligence agencies were united -- all 17 of them -- in agreeing that Russia had tried to interfere with our election.
What possible reason would a president have for not wanting to get to the bottom of whatever evidence was emerging?
I can think of only one plausible answer.   Trump knows that it will ruin him personally and financially.  Others will surely be involved and will likely be convicted.   Trump's real concern is for himself -- and maybe for his family.

It's possible that, if Bannon gets exposed, Trump could decide to cut him loose (this NSC change could be the first step) and try to rehabilitate himself.   It depends on how much evidence they have of Trump's knowing what he was involved in and whether he could play the innocent puppet.  But Trump has had too much involvement with Russian oligarchs in business, long before he got in politics;  and I'm reasonably sure his Russian connections did not just originate with others around him.   He's known and worked with Manafort years ago on business  matters.

It is a fascinating soap opera -- if we can only survive in this increasingly dangerous world long enough to find out.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Breaking news: Bannon removed from National Security Council

Gen. D. H. McMaster, who replaced Michael Flynn as Trump's National Security Adviser, has restored sanity in the makeup of the National Security Council.

Stephen Bannon has been removed from the council;  and  Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, have been restored to full membership.

Good news that in this one vital area of national security, the old order and a little sanity have been restored.   Let's hope the Commander-in-Chief might have learned a little lesson from this:  Listen to the experts.


Funny lines from Trevor Noah * AND * A breakthrough in gay rights law

Gotta take a break from all the bad political news of the day.   Who would have thought one person could do so many things that are so wrong in one day!   So for now . . . a little escape.

Trevor Noah, host of the Tonight Show, threw out a couple of lines that made me laugh out loud.

1.  Speaking about Paul Ryan's big loss in the health care bill, and Trump blaming him for it:
"Paul Ryan has become such a pussy that I'm surprised Trump hasn't grabbed him."

2.  North Carolina replaced its "trans bathroom" law with one that allows the state to discriminate but forbids cities from fighting discrimination by passing their own laws.
"North Carolina has become such a disgrace that South Carolina has changed its name to North Georgia."
A related, serious note, i.e. not a joke.
     The Appeals Court for the 7th U. S. Circuit has just ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Law protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination based on a decision that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the law's ban against sex discrimination.   It will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, but this is a huge and very welcome outcome.


"No chickens were harmed in making this fried chicken."

Reported by Dominique Mosbergen on the HuffingtonPost.

This story is from the "clean meat" movement.   I had not heard of this previously, but it's a growing thing for foodies of the future to replace meat that comes from animals with "meat" grown in a lab.

Taste testers munched on chicken tenders from a lab at Memphis Meats.  The verdict?  Generally positive: "tastes like chicken. . .  a little spongier."  Some liked it enough to go back for seconds.   Promoters point to advantages:  making our food saferhealthier, and better for the environment.  Concerns about animal cruelty would disappear, as would the 15 to 20% of greenhouse gases that livestock contribute to climate change.

[added for clarification:   This is not the faux chicken you find in vegetarian restaurants made from soy or other substitute products.]

The process begins with a small sample of animal muscle tissue, from which stem cells are harvested and placed in a culture with a special solution that feeds the cells and promotes growth.   In the right medium, a single muscle stem cell can multiply into a trillion muscle cells, which merge together into muscle fibers -- becoming almost identical to what's in the meat we now eat.  It would take about 8 to 9 weeks to "grow" a hamburger this way -- which seems slow until you compare it with growing from a baby calf into an adult beef cattle.

Price?   It's not yet economically practical.   Memphis Meats says it's chicken would have to sell at $9,000 per pound.   Beef is even higher -- $18,000 per pound.

Maybe they'll throw in the fries for free.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"A man so untethered to reality . . . "

From the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times:

"It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. . . .  Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. . . .

"He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulent, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation.  His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation -- these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign;  indeed, some of them helped get him elected.  But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous."

*     *     *     *     *
Over the next few days, the board will release additional editorials focusing on:  (1)  Trump's lack of respect for the rule of law;  (2)  his lack of regard for truth and facts;  and (3) his willingness to recklessly perpetrate conspiracy theories and racist memes.

A modest proposal on the SCOTUS seat.

Judge Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to the Supreme Court will come to the Senate floor for a vote, and it is building up into a heated controversy.

First is the background of what the Republicans did in denying President Obama's full constitutional right to fill that seat a year ago.   Republicans would not even have a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, claiming that Obama couldn't make an appointment during the last year of his presidency.   That is nowhere written in the Constitution or in case law.

Both Gorsuch and Garland are rated as highly qualified by the legal profession.   The arguments are about political philosophy and sheer political power.  Further to the point, Obama had made the political concession of nominating someone who is more middle road moderate than he might have done, thus extending an olive branch, which Republicans rudely brushed aside.  In contrast, from his record of judicial decisions, Gorsuch seems even further to the right than Scalia was.

Democrats now claim that a president under investigation for colluding with a foreign power should not have the right to make a lifetime appointment to SCOTUS.   That strikes me as at least as good an argument as Republicans saying Obama couldn't make an appointment the last year of his term in office.   So here's my modest proposal.  It'll be rejected.  But I like it:

Turn back the clock.   Instead of voting now on Gorsuch, let the Senate take up the Obama nomination of Garland, as they should have done a year ago.   Republicans have to give him a good faith hearing and vote.  Then, when the next seat on the court opens up, let the Senate then vote on Gorsuch for that seat.

It seems both fair and a suitable remedy for the wrong that was done to Obama and Garland last year.  It also puts off consideration of a Trump nominee, hopefully, until this mess gets resolved.  It might even contribute to restoring comity in the Senate.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Did Trump campaign collude with Russia?

Whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in its propaganda against the Clinton campaign is the central question hanging over the investigations -- and the cause of so much consternation within the White House.

As I've said again and again, the Trump team is acting the way guilty people do when they're trying to cover up something.   That is almost beyond doubt, so the next question is:   what are they covering up and who is guilty?

Well they should be worried.   A CBS article reported that the FBI has dozens of agents working on the case in Washington, New York, and London and that the NSA and CIA are collecting evidence in Russia.

A lot more light was shed on this during the testimony of one expert witness in the Senate Intelligence Committee's first hearing this past week.   Clinton Watts is a former FBI special agent, former executive officer of the West Point Center for Counterintelligence, and now an academic expert on counterintelligence.

Watts helped broaden the concept of collusion to include using "active measures."  We used to think of spying as simply stealing secrets and then making use of those secrets within your own strategic planning.   But now, especially in the cyber age, collusion can include "active measures" to spread damaging propaganda -- taking stolen material and redirecting it back at you, making it look like a grass-roots effort.   Russian had as many as 15,000 paid operatives, according to testimony at the hearing.  That is more what we seem to be dealing with here, rather than old-fashioned stealing of secrets, according to Watts.

He elaborated on his testimony during an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on Friday night.  The Russians have a network of internet "bots" -- software designed to send out large numbers of "messages" that seem to come from different places to give the impression of a large, genuine response to some story.  (At least that's how this old-timer who doesn't speak computerese understands it.)

The Russians then would put out fake news stories,  and these bots would "amplify" the fake story.  Within hours of something being broadcast by Russia Today TV or Sputnik News, it would be repeated thousands of times on social media in the U.S.  This makes it a trending story that brings in more re-tweets and gets it picked up by legitimate news.  They did the same thing with damaging bits picked up from hacking into Clinton staffers.

Now comes the interesting part.   Often it would be woven into a Tweet or a speech by Donald Trump or a press release from his campaign manager.   This would not only amplify the fake news story, it would give it legitimacy and gravitas, since it came from the campaign.   Trump apparently knew he was using fake news, because he would give himself cover by framing it as:  "people are saying that . . .  everybody's talking about it."

Was it intentional collusion or just opportunistic use?   What's out of the ordinary here, Mr. Watts said, is the rapidity and the synchronicity with which they repeated the original Russian propaganda messages.    There was at least one instance when Roger Stone "predicted" that a certain story was coming out -- and it did, on Russian propaganda.    This is the same tactic that Trump himself used in predicting, more than once, that "evidence" that he had been "wiretapped" would be found in a couple of weeks.

Even if it was only opportunistic, why would a legitimate presidential campaign take, as a primary source of material against an opponent, a known Russian propaganda news outlet?  Especially at the same time and often in contradiction to its own government's highest level of intelligence analysis?

Put that in the larger context of:  (1) all the praise Trump has heaped on Putin as a leader, in contrast to his insults to President Obama and most of the leaders of our allies;  (2)  his silence on such things as Russia's aggression in Eastern Europe and the assassination of Putin's political opponents at home;  (3)  his attempts to interfere with the congressional investigations into the Russian connection in his own government.

What other possible reason could explain why a president of the United States would not want to get to the bottom of credible evidence of foreign interference in our electoral process?

Watts also dropped another bombshell.   This Russian interference went on during the Republican primary as well as the general election.  In fact, it's well established that the Rubio campaign was also hacked by the Russians.   This strongly suggests that the Russians had already chosen Trump as their candidate, and that it was not simply retribution against Hillary Clinton, whom Putin blames for trying to interfere in his own last re-election campaign.

Watts says that this is the new kind of warfare that Russia proclaimed that it has developed.   It's aim is to undermine and crumble democratic governments from within by:  (1) undermining confidence in government process;  (2)  fomenting schisms within political parties;   (3)  eroding trust in our elected officials;  and (4) blurring the lines between fact and fiction in political discourse.

I would interject my own opinion here.   I believe there is ample evidence that Donald Trump has contributed to all four of those aims.   Remember his bold boast:  "Only I can fix it."?

One more thing:   In response to Rachel's question, Mr. Watts said that, unlike the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee for whom he testified,  was being conducted like a serious, largely non-partisan investigation.  He said they asked good questions and knew what they were doing.

Publicly known information to incriminate at least some of the Trump team of collusion is thus far circumstantial.   But Rep. Adam Schiff drew an analogy to show that circumstantial evidence can be very strong and enough to convict.

Imagine that when you went to bed at night, there was no snow on the ground;  and, when you woke up the next morning, it was covered in snow.   Now that is  "only" circumstantial evidence that it snowed during the night.   Someone would have to actually see the snow falling from the sky to call it direct evidence that it snowed.  However, most juries would take the snow on the ground as proof.     I think we're getting pretty close to that kind of cumulative, circumstantial evidence that has no other rational explanation.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Nunes' spy-play, more farce than drama, fell apart, along with Trump's story.

Calling Rep. Devin Nunes "the Clown Prince of the Trump-Russia intelligence scandal," The Daily Beast's Rick Wilson pulls aside the curtain on the scheme that now appears to have been concocted by the White House itself.

Meaning that Stephen Bannon, and maybe President Trump himself, set up this whole contrived "discovery" in the National Security surveillance materials of conversations with some Trump Team members (or Trump himself) during the transition.  Trump is trying to fudge the details to validate his claim that Obama ordered the wiretap.

But let's be very clear about this.   We don't yet know what the content is or who the people are.    But we do know this.   It is not from a tap on Trump's phone or any other phone ordered to be bugged by President Obama.   All three intelligence chiefs, who were in charge at the FBI, CIA, and NSA at that time, have said there was no FISA waiver warrant even requested for Trump Tower phones, let alone granted, by the special court.   So we can take that to the bank -- Obama did not tap Trump's lines.

Assuming there is a recording of a Trump person either talking, or being talked about, it would have to come from one of them being inadvertently heard  in conversation with a foreign national person who was the one being legally tapped.  That is very different than Trump's outlandish accusation that the president ordered him surveilled.   So don't let him get away with claiming he has been vindicated by whatever they've come up with.

But, beyond the clown show that is Trump himself, he is being rivaled in the foolish department by Rep. Devin Nunes, who is supposed to be chairing the committee that is investigating collusion.   Instead, he is turning out to be the one colluding with the White House puppeteer.

Rick Wilson's Daily Beast article is titled, "Devin Nunes Is Just the Errand Boy."  Wilson's colorful prose continues:

*     *     *     *     *
"Nunes’s manic flailing left a chain of confused, exhausted reporters trying to parse his daily lies, revisions, walkbacks, and pushbacks.  His use of amateur intel slang was as cringeworthy as it was unconvincing. . . . it became increasingly obvious that Nunes didn’t get this information from the intelligence community, but rather from the Trump White House.

"Over the weekend, the first cracks in Nunes’s ludicrous story emerged. Michael Ellis, a former general counsel for Nunes, now works in the White House General Counsel’s Office on—wait for it—national-security matters. . . .  The New York Times revealed that the bombshell of alleged illicit surveillance of Trump was provided to Nunes by Ellis and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the current intelligence director for the National Security Council . . . . [who is] disgraced former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s stay-behind agent in the new H.R. McMaster-led NSC. McMaster, a thoroughgoing national-security professional, sought to fire Cohen-Watnick from his earliest days in the position.

"But Cohen-Watnick has powerful friends in the White House. Both Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner weighed in to save Cohen-Watnick’s job. . . . took their appeal to the president himself, who intervened personally on behalf of a relatively unknown 30-year-old aide who was only in the White House because of a man Trump was forced to fire.

"What justified this level of protection and intervention? The pieces seem to click together easily. Bannon needed Cohen-Watnick to stay in place in the National Security Council, with the concomitant level of access to intelligence, in order to support the political pushback on the growing Russia story. The coverup and political pushback Bannon has personally led is fraught with danger, with obstruction of justice on the low end of the risk scale. That Bannon, Cohen-Watnick, and Ellis apparently worked together to loop the hapless Nunes into Bannon’s scheme was too dumb by a mile. In Washington, good conspiracies are as rare as hen’s teeth, and this one is utterly obvious. A good conspiracy needs a patsy, a great one needs an operator. Nunes is the former.

"Nunes made himself the star of the drama without the requisite political or acting skills. . . .  Nunes got this highly classified [information] and leaked it to achieve a political end for the White House. He leaped out of an Uber as if his ass was on fire, met Cohen-Watnick and Ellis in secret at the White House, tattled to the president, then raced to vomit out specific details in a press conference. He lied frequently and badly, to try to keep up the game.

"This ridiculous farce didn’t spring fully formed from Nunes’s brow. He shows—as the past week abundantly demonstrates—few of the skills needed to engage in the big games of either intelligence or of the real cut-and-thrust of the D.C. demimonde. Washington rewards talented liars of both parties and punishes the clumsy ones.

"Nunes is a clumsy liar and it shows. He’s an errand boy sent by grocery clerks with just enough understanding of the game and the stakes to think this is going to work out because their base is always with them. . . .

"It’s not just the White House that’s in crisis. It’s increasingly obvious that the House of Representatives is also in trouble. . . .  Nunes has almost singlehandedly wrecked the credibility of its intelligence committee, raising the specter of either a Senate committee that dominates the investigation or a select committee with sweeping powers that will terrify this White House. . . .

". . . Speaker Ryan is desperately trying to cobble together a governing majority . . . [and] can’t afford more embarrassments, and Nunes may have put him in an untenable position. This is particularly painful for Ryan because just two days ago he vigorously defended Nunes’s performance as head of the House Intelligence Committee and because Nunes claims he informed Ryan what he was up to before going to the president.

"Most organizations and individuals in a political or media crisis share one characteristic: They don’t know they’re in a crisis until the smell of smoke and the sound of sirens is almost deafening. . . .  The Trump White House’s active obstruction of investigations into the Russian influence on the president, his team, and his allies was broken wide open Thursday, the Nunes show came to an ugly end, and the nation got a major break in a crisis that no amount of muttering “this is fine” will rectify."

*     *     *     *     *
Granted, sometimes The Daily Beast gets out a little over its skis, but I don't see anything here that is not entirely plausible, or that even has much chance of being refuted.   It's based on easily checked facts and obvious conclusions drawn from those facts.   I believe this is the way it happened.

Adding even more suspicion, on Saturday the top Democrat on Nunes' intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, said he has now seen the documents that Nunes was shown by the White House staff;  and he finds nothing in them that could not easily be shared with their entire committee.   This completely negates any reason for Nunes' spy games.   As John Dean said:   every thing the Trump people are doing is what people engaged in cover-up do.