By Eric Lichtblau, CNN Investigates [cnn.com]
(CNN)Fired FBI director James Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.
ELIZABETH PREZA [rawstory.com]
Donald Trump is “emotionally withdrawing” and gaining weight as the FBI investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government creeps closer to the Oval Office.
As he returns from his mercurial trip abroad, the president is forced to deal with the fallout from news that members of his inner circle, including son-in-law and “Secretary of Everything” Jared Kushner is a person of interest in the FBI probe.
CNN’s Gloria Borger reports the president was already “in a pretty glum mood” when he set out for a multi-day blitz through Europe and the Middle East. But now he faces even more legal woes after reports revealed Kushner tried to establish a backchannel line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin. He’s even brought on his longtime personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who will “supervise” the president’ legal team.
One source told Borger Trump’s major misstep was firing former FBI Director James Comey, which ultimately resulted int he appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Allowing a special counsel to happen was idiocy,” a Trump ally told Borger. “Special counsels never end well.”
Commenting on the White House’s less-than-strategic handling of all matters Russia, another ally remarked, “These guys don’t play chess. They play checkers.”
The culmination of distracting and damaging scandals at the White House have caused the president to withdraw from others, a source told CNN.
“He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be,” a confidante said. ”I see him emotionally withdrawing. He’s gained weight. He doesn’t have anybody whom he trusts.”
And as the president receives conflicting advice from aides and officials, there’s concern over whether the president will even listen to the information. “No one is giving him the landscape—this is how it works, this is what you should do or not do,” a friend told Borger. “And no one has enough control—or security—to do that.”
Instead, the president hopes for a magic bullet to quell the Russia scandal.
“He’s sitting there saying, like he does with everything, ‘You guys work for me. Fix this,’” a source said.
By all accounts, working for President Donald Trump is an absolute nightmare. On top of the obvious embarrassment one must feel being directly associated with the disastrous administration, Trump is reportedly vindictive and vicious towards his subordinates. The Washington Post recently detailed the manner in which Trump regularly insults and demeans those who work for him.
In response to the Post’s article, Hope Hicks – the White House Director of Strategic Communications – released a ridiculous statement that quickly became the subject of widespread ridicule:
“President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor … and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.”
Ignoring the flagrant mendacity of the statement, it’s impossible not to find the wording strange, if not patently absurd. It reads like a speech from an autocratic regime’s cult of personality praising their Supreme Leader or a work of satire.
In terms of content, Trump actively exudes a negative energy, not a positive one. His campaign rhetoric was focused on how bad and weak America has become, and how he was the only one could fix it. He regularly uses his social media to attack his opponents and the free press. He’s also habitually disrespectful towards women, so it’s more than a stretch for Hicks to say that he “treats everyone with respect.”
A senior writer for Shareblue made a hilarious comparison on Twitter:
i changed one thing about this statement from trump white house spokesperson hope hicks, see if you can find it pic.twitter.com/wnH0j5F7pZ
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) May 30, 2017
Another Twitter user compared the statement to a quote from The Manchurian Candidate, a film about an American politician who has been brainwashed by a foreign country:
Manchurian Candidate: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”
Hope Hicks: pic.twitter.com/OUOtv9OBNt
— Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) May 29, 2017
Trump has a disturbing history of cozying up to dictators and foreign strongmen, so it’s unsurprising that his team’s rhetoric would mimic the grossly exaggerated praise that such leaders heap upon themselves. Subtlety – like governance – clearly isn’t Trump’s strong suit.
The rule of law under President Trump, as witnessed by the assault on a free press in Montana, is slowly being eroded
By Brett Arends [marketwatch.com]
There are two great dangers when managing your own money and, indeed, the rest of your affairs. The first is reacting too much to recent events. The other is reacting too little.
And when it comes to what’s now happening in this country, the second danger is every bit as risky as the first.
To cut to the chase, it is becoming increasingly clear that Americans should be taking reasonable steps to diversify their investments outside the U.S., including holding assets in currencies other than dollars, and where possible to acquire a second passport.
Yes, I’m serious. Jewish-, Irish- and Italian-Americans, for example, should be checking out whether they qualify automatically for dual citizenship. Others should be looking into their options too. It is always a good thing to be diversified globally and to have the option of leaving the country and living and working elsewhere. But right now it is more important than usual.
Sixty-two million people voted for Trump. The Republican Party and the people of Montana have now legitimized violence. The next step in the sequence is obvious.
It is no longer a certainty that America will remain a stable country governed by an impartial rule of law. You could argue it no longer is.
I am not saying that a further breakdown is guaranteed or even likely, but I am saying it is possible. Maybe things will end happily, but maybe not. What we are witnessing today is exactly how it has happened historically. It goes in steps. Countries do not leap from civilization to barbarism in a single bound. You do not wake up one morning to discover mobs burning books in the streets. The decline happens by degrees. Each step enables the next.
And what is being normalized here now is not normal.
The voters of Montana have just rewarded Greg Gianforte for beating up a reporter by electing him to Congress as their representative. Many on the right are crowing. Gianforte was reportedly swamped with extra donations following the attack. Republican congressman Duncan Hunter of California said the attack was merely “inappropriate” — unless, he added, the reporter “deserved it.” The president has celebrated the result. Popular right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham actually mocked the reporter and suggested he should have fought back against Gianforte and his aides. (One can only imagine what she would have said if he actually had done so.) She was not alone.
None of these people are being subject to moral sanction by the market or their supporters so far as anyone can tell. Gianforte has only been cited legally for a misdemeanor by the local sheriff, who was a campaign contributor. The smart money says he will get away with it, and take up his lucrative sinecure in Washington.
And as every conservative knows, human beings respond to incentives. If this sort of action is rewarded and not punished, it will happen more often.
The reporter in question, the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, was doing exactly — not roughly, but exactly — what people like Thomas Jefferson were thinking about when they included the First Amendment in the Constitution. He was trying to ask the Republican congressional candidate for his view on the new health-care bill, which according to the Congressional Budget Office will cost 23 million people their health insurance. There is, literally, no more legitimate function of a reporter in our democracy than asking a congressional candidate for his position on a new law just before an election.
Yet there is no longer even a consensus in defense of this.
What I personally find most depressing is the tribalism. People on the right are defending Gianforte because he’s on their “team” and Jacobs is on the “other” team. Their reaction would have been exactly the opposite if it had been the other way around. If you want to see how commonplace this is, check out social media — or, indeed, the likely comments below this article.
But such thinking is the logic of soccer hooligans. It should have no place, zero, in public debate. To witness people in public life incorporating this into their reasoning and behavior is more than ominous.
How do you get here? First you lay the groundwork with a long-term, cynical marketing campaign against the “mainstream” press. Then a presidential candidate urges his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protestors.
Then he gets his supporters so mad at the press that a reporter needs to be escorted from a rally by the Secret Service for her own protection.
Then the candidate jokes about whether he would ever kill reporters. Then he calls them the “enemy of the people.” Then one of his colleagues physically attacks one of them.
And at each stage along the process, some people cheer him, others defend him, and others shrug it off. Each unsanctioned outrage enables the next. Sixty-two million people voted for Trump. The Republican Party and the people of Montana have now legitimized violence. The next step in the sequence is obvious.
When you travel abroad these days, it’s like a cloud lifts. Stepping outside Trumpland, even for a few days, reminds you of what life is like in the normal world. You and your family should have that option as a matter of right.
The point about a stable country is that it has the rule of law, and the point about the rule of law is that, above all, it is impartial. This is why the traditional figure of justice is blindfolded. Assault is assault. There aren’t “teams” or sides.
Partisan justice is not a feature of a civil society. It is a feature of a civil war.
By Michael Gerson [washingtonpost.com]
To many observers on the left, the initial embrace of Seth Rich conspiracy theories by conservative media figures was merely a confirmation of the right’s deformed soul. But for those of us who remember that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were once relatively mainstream Reaganites, their extended vacation in the fever swamps is even more disturbing. If once you knew better, the indictment is deeper.
The cruel exploitation of the memory of Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot dead last summer, was horrifying and clarifying. The Hannity right, without evidence, accused Rich rather than the Russians of leaking damaging DNC emails. In doing so, it has proved its willingness to credit anything — no matter how obviously deceptive or toxic — to defend President Trump and harm his opponents. Even if it means becoming a megaphone for Russian influence.
The basic, human questions are simple. How could conservative media figures not have felt — felt in their hearts and bones — the God-awful ickiness of it? How did the genes of generosity and simple humanity get turned off? Is this insensibility the risk of prolonged exposure to our radioactive political culture? If so, all of us should stand back a moment and tend to the health of our revulsion.
But this failure of decency is also politically symbolic. Who is the politician who legitimized conspiracy thinking at the highest level? Who raised the possibility that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Who hinted that Hillary Clinton might have been involved in the death of Vince Foster, or that unnamed liberals might have killed Justice Antonin Scalia? Who not only questioned President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but raised the prospect of the murder of a Hawaiian state official in a coverup? “How amazing,” Trump tweeted in 2013, “the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in plane crash today. All others lived.”
We have a president charged with maintaining public health who asserts that the vaccination schedule is a dangerous scam of greedy doctors. We have a president charged with representing all Americans who has falsely accused thousands of Muslims of celebrating in the streets following the 9/11 attacks.
In this mental environment, alleging a Rich-related conspiracy was predictable. This is a concrete example of the mainstreaming of destructive craziness.
Those conservatives who believe that the confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch is sufficient justification for the Trump presidency are ignoring Trump’s psychic and moral destruction of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Clinton, with a small number of changed votes, would have defeated Republicans. But Trump is doing a kind of harm beyond anything Clinton could have done. He is changing the party’s most basic moral and political orientations. He is shaping conservatism in his image and ensuring an eventual defeat more complete, and an eventual exile more prolonged, than Democrats could have dreamed.
The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them.
Conspiracy theories often involve a kind of dehumanization. Human tragedy is made secondary — something to be exploited rather than mourned. The narrative of conspiracy takes precedence over the meaning of a life and the suffering of a family. A human being is made into an ideological prop and used on someone else’s stage. As the Rich family has attested, the pain inflicted is quite real.
A conspiratorial approach to politics is fully consistent with other forms of dehumanization — of migrants, refugees and “the other” more generally. Men and women are reduced to types and presented as threats. They also become props in an ideological drama. They are presented as representatives of a plot involving invasion and infiltration, rather than being viewed as individuals seeking opportunity or fleeing oppression and violence. This also involves callousness, cruelty and conspiracy thinking.
In Trump’s political world, this project of dehumanization is far along. The future of conservatism now depends on its capacity for revulsion. And it is not at all clear whether this capacity still exists.
By Ben Mathis-Lilley [slate.com]
Another great moment for America courtesy of President Donald Trump, who is in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli leaders—who, I guess, he does not consider Middle Eastern because they are not Arabs:
Trump, in remarks before meeting with Rivlin, says “we just got back from the Middle East.”
— Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) May 22, 2017
We try to keep it clean and professional around here, but, honestly? What a dumbass.