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“Truthful Hyperbole” vs. Truth

Late in his hour-and-a-half long speech to a rally crowd in Cincinnati on Thursday, President Donald Trump assured his adoring audience that AIDS and childhood cancer will soon be cured, which is something most presidents would have mentioned earlier. The boast probably would have gotten more attention if anyone believed it were actually true, and there weren’t another hour’s worth of similar unverifiable and untrue boasts for the fact-checkers to go over. Trump believes in what he calls “truthful hyperbole,” and apparently so does his nominee to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence.
Rep. John Ratcliffe was a controversial choice for the job from the outset, given his apparent lack of relevant qualifications for the job, but Democratic opposition has grown stronger and Republican support less solid since it’s become clear he has a Trumpian tendency to overstate his accomplishments.
Earlier Ratcliffe had been forced to admit he wasn’t as successful a prosecutor of terrorism during his brief term as an acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas as he’d earlier claimed. It turns out there weren’t a whole lot of terrorism cases to be prosecuted in east Texas during his short stint on the job, and that Ratcliffe played a more limited role that he’d bragged about in the cases that did come up. He did get a psychologically troubled Iraq war veteran to plead guilty to possession of a pipe bomb, but that seems to have been his biggest contribution to the war on terrorism.
Ratcliffe has also boasted on his congressional web site that he arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day, which on its face is as fanciful as boasting of curing AIDS and childhood cancer, and now he’s been forced to admit that was overstated. He was involved in a five-state sweep of poultry plants that resulted in approximately 300 arrests, but of course it was Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who actually did the arresting, and the results were underwhelming. Only 45 of the arrestees were actually prosecuted by Ratcliffe’s office, and six of the cases were dismissed, in two instances because the defendants turned out to be American citizens, one of whom was a 19-year-old woman dragged from her bed by immigration agents in a pre-dawn raid.
Trump can hardly object to such harmless exaggerations, nor does he seem to mind the apparent lack of qualifications for the job. Coats had been a Representative and Senator with a stellar reputation for his service on the intelligence committees in both chambers, and then served four years as ambassador to Germany before taking charge of the the national intelligence agency, but he constantly annoyed Trump by agreeing with the rest of the intelligence community that Russia meddled in the last presidential election on Trump’s behalf. Ratcliffe has signaled that he’ll take the word of Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that no such thing happened, so there’s no need to do anything to prevent it from happening again, and that’s the only qualification Trump needs.
If Ratcliffe doesn’t have a traditional intelligence background, so much the better as far as Trump is concerned. “We need somebody who can really rein it in,” Trump told reporters, “because as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They run amok.”
Trump’s own Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and Federal Bureau of Investigation director and the rest of his intelligence appointees don’t seem to have learned the lesson, though, as they’re all running amok and agreeing with Trump’s outgoing National Intelligence Director and special counsel Robert Mueller and anyone who’s been paying attention that Russia did indeed middle in the last election. They also all agree that Russia’s gearing up to do it again, and we’re more inclined to take their word for it rather than Trump’s and Putin’s and Ratcliffe’s.
Ratcliffe never did win Senate confirmation as a U.S. Attorney, and it’s hard to say if he’ll fare better at his next confirmation hearing, as there are a few Republicans who are openly skeptical of his fitness for the job, and it’s easy to predict he won’t be getting any Democratic votes. We’ll also go out on a limb and predict that Trump won’t soon cure AIDS and childhood cancer, and cautiously hope that Ratcliffe doesn’t rein in America’s intelligence from countering Russia meddlesome plots.

— Bud Norman

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The News on a Cold and Snowy Kansas Night

Kansas was cold and snowy on Tuesday, not to mention the ongoing official national state of emergency, so we hunkered down at home and read up on the latest news. None of it, alas, was the least bit warming.
We read all the way to the end of a very lengthy New York Times account of President Donald Trump’s long efforts to thwart the various investigations in his businesses and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration, and found it all too believable. There’s bound to be something in such a long story that will eventually will require a correction, but the general gist of it, that Trump doesn’t like anybody asking questions he’d rather not answer, and is willing to resort to ruthless and arguably constitutional methods to stop it, by now seems undeniably true.
Over at The Washington Post there was a story that speculated Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will be the next defenestrated administration official, and we hated to hear that. Coats was a longtime Senator from Indiana who served on the Senate’s intelligence committee, a former ambassador to Germany, and is widely considered one of the last of the wise old foreign policy hands who tried to restrain the Trump’s worst gut instincts. He’s joined with the rest of the intelligence community in publicly disagreeing with Trump’s dubious claims about North Korea and Iran and the Islamic State and the threat at America’s southern border, and Trump clearly does not like his advisors disagreeing with him, so the Post’s speculation seemed plausible enough.
None of which was quite so depressing as the damned weather, or a certain sense that there’s nothing to be done about any of it.
What the Trump critics call “obstruction of justice” the Trump apologists call “fighting back,” and even if that Times story had run as long as the history books that will eventually be written it wouldn’t have changed anybody’s mind. Trump fans don’t want answers to those pesky questions anymore than Trump does, and they also share the president’s preference for his set of facts about North Korea and Iran and the Islamic State and the threat at America’s southern border. Trump’s critics and more noisome administration officials seem to have more factual facts on their side, but lately that doesn’t seem to make much difference.
On the other hand the stock markets were slightly up, and local forecasts call for above-freezing highs temperatures in the coming days, and the sports pages had reports from baseball’s spring training. Spring always eventually arrives, and although that usually brings tornados and other severe weather to this part of our great country we’re always happy to see it.
The truth always eventually arrives, too, and we expect that despite the best efforts of Trump and his apologists we will someday read the results of all those various pesky investigations in lengthy news stories and even longer history books. Our guess is it will be the equivalent of a Kansas tornado on the great plains of American history, but that’s what it takes to get the lazy hazy crazy days of summer around here, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

— Bud Norman

A Who-Wrote-It Mystery

The most popular parlor game in political circles lately is speculating about the identify of the senior administration  official who penned an op-ed in The New York Times that was scathingly critical of President Donald Trump.
The piece cited Trump’s “amorality,” described him as uninformed and impulsive, claimed that several high-ranking officials routinely hide documents and do other things to prevent the president from endangering national security, and generally confirmed the reporting in a soon-to-be-released Bob Woodward book that the White House is “crazy town.” Trump is reportedly furious about it and eager to find and the fire the author, and during a recent rally he described he called the author an “anenimonous” coward who should be tried for treason. By now even Trump isn’t claiming that The New York Times just made it up, and naturally everyone else is also wondering who the senior White House official might be.
There was some speculation that he’s Vice President Mike Pence, because the relatively rarely used word “lodestar” is in the piece and Pence frequently uses the term, and chief of staff John Kelly has been suspected because some of his favorite phrases also appear, but both possibilities strike us a quite remote. More likely is that the author was shrewd enough to add these details as a diversion, and subject both men to Trump’s inevitable questions.
Pretty much everyone at a senior level in the administration is still a suspect, but most of the attention seems to be focused on national security advisor Dan Coats and part-time “senior adviser” and full-time presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The case against Coats strikes us especially strong, for several reasons. Coats found out about Trump’s decision to invite Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to the White House while being interviewed on national television, and was clearly both surprised and displeased, and the op-ed stresses the danger of Trump’s tendency to make impulsive decisions without consulting any of the experts he’s hired. The piece also defends some of the more traditionally Republican aspects of Trump’s domestic policy, and back when Coats was in the House of Representatives and then the Senate he very much a traditional Republican. He’s now nearing retirement age, too, and at this point might well care more about what the country thinks of his party than what his party thinks of him.
Kushner seems a less likely suspect, but we’d love to believe it just as much the next Never Trumper, and there are reasons to do so. Both Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka Trump Kushner were social-climbing Manhattanites and fashionable Democrats when they took their “senior advisor” positions in the White House, and both promised their appalled friends that they were only there to be a moderating influence on Trump’s more populist impulses. Kushner and his wife and pretty all of his in-laws have their own expensive legal troubles, too, and it was widely speculated even before the op-ed that both Kushners would be heading back to New York at any moment, and whenever they eventually do we’re sure they’ll want to reassure the fashionably Democratic socialites of Gotham that they did their part for the resistance.
Whoever it was wrote the op-ed shouldn’t expect a hero’s welcome anywhere, however, as almost everyone thinks the author has been cowardly. According to Trump and his die-hard fans the “aneniminous” writer should forthwith face a traitor’s fate on that gallows, while Trump’s critics on both the left and right would have preferred a principled resignation and an on-the-record account to corroborate all the recent reliable reporting on the “crazy town” inside the White House. We’re more inclined to the latter view, and find the former downright scary, but we’ll judge not lest we be judged, as we’re not sure what we’d do if we found ourselves in the writer’s unusual situation.
If it turns out to be Coats we’ll take stock of his long congressional career as a traditional Republican and distinguished diplomat from the old school, and assume his cowardly efforts had the best intentions and might of done some good. If it turns out to be Kushner, we’ll go right ahead and and indulge in some sinful schadenfreude, and let him find his apologists somewhere in New York City’s high society.
In any case, even Trump seems to agree that there is indeed at least one high-rankking senior official in the White House who worries about the president’s moral and intellectual and temperamental qualifications for the office. According to that soon–to-be-released book by a veteran reporter with a far better truth-telling record than Trump there are several other senior officials in the White House with the same qualms, which pretty much accords with a book by a less reputable author and then one of Trump’s former reality show co-stars, and based on what we’re seeing of Trump’s televised and “tweeted” statements we don’t doubt that at least a few senior White House officials are similarly alarmed.
We’d like to think so, at least, and we hate to speculate how this might all turn out.

— Bud Norman

The Threats Keep on a -Threatening

The Senate intelligence committee held hearings Tuesday on worldwide threats, and it all sounded pretty threatening. So far as we can tell the most pressing threat is to the credibility of President Donald Trump.
The hearings opened with testimony from Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray, which wound up dragging out the recent embarrassing storyline about the alleged wives-beater who was allowed to resign last week from his high-ranking position in the White House with fulsome praise from Trump. The president and his chief of staff both claimed to have been shocked by the allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter when they learned of them in a recent Daily Mail expose, but those pesky reporters kept pestering the White House press secretary about why the allegations hadn’t been exposed by an FBI background check, and why the agency hadn’t granted Porter the security clearance he needed to do his high-ranking job, which dragged the story through the weekend an into Monday. The answers weren’t quite clear, but they seemed to suggest that the FBI had failed in its duty to vet the White House staff.
Wray was appointed to the FBI directorship by Trump, but on Tuesday he declined to commit perjury and scapegoat his hard-working agents by sticking to the White House script. Instead he testified that his agency had given the White House a preliminary report last March that two ex-wives saidt Porter had physically abused them, and included corroborating police reports and court filings in a complete report last July. If chief of staff John Kelly is truthfully claiming that he only found out about Porter’s problem when the Daily Mail wrote about it, which seems highly unlikely, it does not speak well for the efficiency of the White House.
The hearing also heard about even scarier threats to the national security than a wives-beating staff secretary, and raised questions about how efficient the White House will deal with them.
Joining Wray at the hearings were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and all agreed that the Russian government meddled in the last American elections in various nefarious ways and is keenly intent on doing so again in the next one. Wray assured the senators that the FBI is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter the Russian efforts, but admitted that none were “specifically directed by the president.” Coats also spoke of unspecified specific activities, but acknowledged that “no single agency is in charge.” Pompeo defended his agency’s had work countering the Russian threat and promised more specific information in the closed session that followed, and given his reputation as an efficient man he probably had plenty to tell them, but despite his reputation as a Trump loyalist he didn’t mention anything about the president’s leadership in the effort.
All of which ties into that whole “Russia thing” storyline that has loomed so large in the Trump reality show, and none of which does him much good. Trump’s apparent insouciance about Russian attacks on American democracy is one of the most compelling reasons so many people suspect there’s something to this particular “witch hunt,” and despite his apologists best efforts to blame it on a “deep state” “silent coup” of corrupt FBI agents and CIA spooks we note that Trump’s own appointees aren’t backing them up.
To make things worse, Coats also testified that the federal government’s “increasingly fractious political process, particularly with respect to federal spending, is threatening our ability to defend our nation, both in the short term and especially in the long run.” Given the budget-busting spending bill Trump recently signed, and his own contributions to the fractiousness of the political process, that was hardly a ringing endorsement of his boss.
Perhaps it will be quickly forgotten, though, as that embarrassing storyline about the porn performer who alleged a past affair with Trump and Trump’s lawyer paying her $130,000 during the election was back in the news. The latest hook is that Trump’s longtime lawyer and spokesman and valued advisor is now claiming he made the payment out of his own pocket, for some undisclosed reason we cannot imagine, which he claims clears Trump of any campaign finance disclosure problems. There’s also talk that Kelly will soon be out as chief of staff, and Trump’s longtime lawyer had been rumored as a possible replacement, so we expect more threatening storylines to come.

— Bud Norman