I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past.


Tony Schwartz is the chief executive officer of the Energy Project, which helps companies tap more of people’s capacity by better meeting their core needs so they can perform more sustainably. He is the author, most recently, of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”
President Trump’s behavior hasn’t changed in decades. It probably never will. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Why does President Trump behave in the dangerous and seemingly self-destructive ways he does?

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. To me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise. The way he has behaved over the past week — firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision and disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials — is also entirely predictable.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.

The Trump I first met in 1985 had lived nearly all his life in survival mode. By his own description, his father, Fred, was relentlessly demanding, difficult and driven. Here’s how I phrased it in “The Art of the Deal”: “My father is a wonderful man, but he is also very much a business guy and strong and tough as hell.” As Trump saw it, his older brother, Fred Jr., who became an alcoholic and died at age 42, was overwhelmed by his father. Or as I euphemized it in the book: “There were inevitably confrontations between the two of them. In most cases, Freddy came out on the short end.”

Trump’s worldview was profoundly and self-protectively shaped by his father. “I was drawn to business very early, and I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were,” is the way I wrote it in the book. “I stood up to him, and he respected that. We had a relationship that was almost businesslike.”

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it — as he thought his older brother had. This narrow, defensive outlook took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now,” he told a recent biographer, “I’m basically the same.” His development essentially ended in early childhood.

Instead, Trump grew up fighting for his life and taking no prisoners. In countless conversations, he made clear to me that he treated every encounter as a contest he had to win, because the only other option from his perspective was to lose, and that was the equivalent of obliteration. Many of the deals in “The Art of the Deal” were massive failures — among them the casinos he owned and the launch of a league to rival the National Football League — but Trump had me describe each of them as a huge success.

With evident pride, Trump explained to me that he was “an assertive, aggressive” kid from an early age, and that he had once punched a music teacher in the eye and was nearly expelled from elementary school for his behavior.

Like so much about Trump, who knows whether that story is true? What’s clear is that he has spent his life seeking to dominate others, whatever that requires and whatever collateral damage it creates along the way. In “The Art of the Deal,” he speaks with street-fighting relish about competing in the world of New York real estate: They are “some of the sharpest, toughest, and most vicious people in the world. I happen to love to go up against these guys, and I love to beat them.” I never sensed from Trump any guilt or contrition about anything he’d done, and he certainly never shared any misgivings publicly. From his perspective, he operated in a jungle full of predators who were forever out to get him, and he did what he must to survive.

Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump sees no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and thereby undermining the statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

The Trump I got to know had no deep ideological beliefs, nor any passionate feeling about anything but his immediate self-interest. He derives his sense of significance from conquests and accomplishments. “Can you believe it, Tony?” he would often say at the start of late-night conversations with me, going on to describe some new example of his brilliance. But the reassurance he got from even his biggest achievements was always ephemeral and unreliable — and that appears to include being elected president. Any addiction has a predictable pattern: The addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to re-create the desired state. On the face of it, Trump has more opportunities now to feel significant and accomplished than almost any other human being on the planet. But that’s like saying a heroin addict has his problem licked once he has free and continuous access to the drug. Trump also now has a far bigger and more public stage on which to fail and to feel unworthy.

From the very first time I interviewed him in his office in Trump Tower in 1985, the image I had of Trump was that of a black hole. Whatever goes in quickly disappears without a trace. Nothing sustains. It’s forever uncertain when someone or something will throw Trump off his precarious perch — when his sense of equilibrium will be threatened and he’ll feel an overwhelming compulsion to restore it. Beneath his bluff exterior, I always sensed a hurt, incredibly vulnerable little boy who just wanted to be loved.

What Trump craves most deeply is the adulation he has found so fleeting. This goes a long way toward explaining his need for control and why he simply couldn’t abide Comey, who reportedly refused to accede to Trump’s demand for loyalty and whose continuing investigation into Russian interference in the election campaign last year threatens to bring down his presidency. Trump’s need for unquestioning praise and flattery also helps to explain his hostility to democracy and to a free press — both of which thrive on open dissent.

As we have seen countless times during the campaign and since the election, Trump can devolve into survival mode on a moment’s notice. Look no further than the thousands of tweets he has written attacking his perceived enemies over the past year. In neurochemical terms, when he feels threatened or thwarted, Trump moves into a fight-or-flight state. His amygdala is triggered, his hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activates, and his prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that makes us capable of rationality and reflection — shuts down. He reacts rather than reflects, and damn the consequences. This is what makes his access to the nuclear codes so dangerous and frightening.

Over the past week, in the face of criticism from nearly every quarter, Trump’s distrust has almost palpably mushroomed. No importuning by his advisers stands a chance of constraining him when he is this deeply triggered. The more he feels at the mercy of forces he cannot control — and he is surely feeling that now — the more resentful, desperate and impulsive he becomes.

Even 30 years later, I vividly remember the ominous feeling when Trump got angry about some perceived slight. Everyone around him knew that you were best off keeping your distance at those times, or, if that wasn’t possible, that you should resist disagreeing with him in any way.

In the hundreds of Trump’s phone calls I listened in on with his consent, and the dozens of meetings I attended with him, I can never remember anyone disagreeing with him about anything. The same climate of fear and paranoia appears to have taken root in his White House.

The most recent time I spoke to Trump — and the first such occasion in nearly three decades — was July 14, 2016, shortly before the New Yorker published an article by Jane Mayer about my experience writing “The Art of the Deal.” Trump was just about to win the Republican nomination for president. I was driving in my car when my cellphone rang. It was Trump. He had just gotten off a call with a fact-checker for the New Yorker, and he didn’t mince words.

“I just want to tell you that I think you’re very disloyal,” he started in. Then he berated and threatened me for a few minutes. I pushed back, gently but firmly. And then suddenly, as abruptly as he began the call, he ended it. “Have a nice life,” he said, and hung up.


Trump’s overseas trip must be canceled. The risks are too great.

By Sarah Posner [washingtonpost.com]

President Trump is scheduled to depart Friday on his first international trip as president, with scheduled visits in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, and the Vatican, followed by attendance at meetings of NATO in Brussels and the G7 alliance in Sicily. Talking to reporters this morning, national security adviser H.R. McMaster brushed off questions about Trump’s sharing of classified information with Russian officials, focusing instead on the trip’s purpose to “highlight the need for unity among three of the world’s great religions” and further “an agenda of tolerance.”

But less than two hours after McMaster spoke, the New York Times reported this afternoon that Israel is the ally whose intelligence Trump inappropriately shared with Russian officials. Although Israel would not confirm the report, it would, if true, vindicate the fears of Israeli intelligence officials who warned, even before Trump took office, that intelligence shared with the United States could be leaked to Russia, and potentially passed on to Iran.

Here’s the upshot of all this: Trump’s trip must be canceled. Our national security, our relationships with allies, and the security of the world are at risk due to the president’s erratic behavior and inability to adhere to basic norms of both democracy and diplomacy.

President Trump is scheduled to depart Friday on his first international trip as president, with scheduled visits in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, and the Vatican, followed by attendance at meetings of NATO in Brussels and the G7 alliance in Sicily. Talking to reporters this morning, national security adviser H.R. McMaster brushed off questions about Trump’s sharing of classified information with Russian officials, focusing instead on the trip’s purpose to “highlight the need for unity among three of the world’s great religions” and further “an agenda of tolerance.”

But less than two hours after McMaster spoke, the New York Times reported this afternoon that Israel is the ally whose intelligence Trump inappropriately shared with Russian officials. Although Israel would not confirm the report, it would, if true, vindicate the fears of Israeli intelligence officials who warned, even before Trump took office, that intelligence shared with the United States could be leaked to Russia, and potentially passed on to Iran.

Here’s the upshot of all this: Trump’s trip must be canceled. Our national security, our relationships with allies, and the security of the world are at risk due to the president’s erratic behavior and inability to adhere to basic norms of both democracy and diplomacy.


Articles of Impeachment for Donald J. Trump – A first draft of an impeachment bill for the president.

Even if Republicans won’t act, Democrats, like House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (pictured April 6 at the Capitol), should make their intentions clear.

By  [slate.com]


he framers of our Constitution likely never imagined a President like Donald J. Trump. And yet, they inserted impeachment provisions into the original text of the Constitution, some 230 years ago, to empower Congress to act in case a rube, tyrant, or criminal came to occupy the nation’s highest office.

It’s not crystal clear which Trump might be, but the president’s latest outrageous actions—the reported passing of highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office—should awake Republicans and Democrats in Congress to the dangers posed by Trump to the nation in case that wasn’t already obvious. His conduct now goes far beyond mere offense or incitement to constitute actual damage to U.S. national security, the very definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” contemplated by the men who crafted the Constitution’s impeachment clauses. With this latest act, the time has come to commence the slow, deliberate process of demonstrating that Trump needs to be removed from office so he can harm the nation no more. A broad congressional inquiry should begin immediately, to inform drafters who will prepare articles of impeachment for consideration by the House and Senate. While Republican control of Congress means that such proceedings won’t occur anytime soon, it’s clear that they are warranted. We don’t yet know for certain what precisely such an investigation would yield, but there is enough public information already available to roughly map out what such articles of impeachment might—and probably should—look like.

Historically, impeachment articles have focused on broad violations of constitutional duty and specific discrete acts like clashing with Congress over Reconstruction, commanding the Watergate break-in, or testimonial perjury. In Trump’s case, there is ample evidence for both the more general violations and the more specific abuses, much of them admitted by the president through his own indelicate tweets (including admissions Tuesday morning regarding the passing of classified information to the Russians).

So what might an impeachment bill against President Trump include?

The Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton impeachment bills used common language to put their specific violations in context. Any Trump articles of impeachment should also include such language at the start of each article:

In his conduct while president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has engaged in conduct that resulted in misuse and abuse of his high office:

Beyond this preamble, the Trump impeachment bill might include, but not be limited to, the following articles:

Article 1: Compromising the integrity of the presidency through continuing violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. From his first day in office, Trump’s continuing stake in Trump Organization businesses has violated the clause of the Constitution proscribing federal officials from receiving foreign payments. The true and full extent of Trump’s conflicts of interest remains unknown. For his part, Trump has transferred day-to-day control over these interests to his adult children and the management of the Trump Organization. However, he remains the ultimate beneficiary for these businesses, so the fundamental conflict of interest remains. These foreign business ties violate both the letter and spirit of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and arguably provide the clearest basis for impeachment based on the facts and law.

Article 2: Violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the duties of his office by disregarding U.S. interests and pursuing the interests of a hostile foreign power, to wit, Russia. L’affaire Russia began during Trump’s campaign for the presidency, during which several top aides reportedly had contacts with Russia and its intelligence service. His campaign manager also had reportedly worked either directly or indirectly for the Kremlin. These contacts continued, famously, into the presidential transition, when the president’s chosen national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had his ill-fated contacts with Russia. Beyond these contacts, Trump has substantively acted in myriad ways that benefit Russia, including dangerous diplomacy that has reportedly frayed relationships with our allies and allegedly put allied intelligence assets at risk. By offering classified information to the Russians, it was reported that Trump risked the intelligence assets of a Middle Eastern ally that already warned American officials that it would stop sharing such information with America if that information was shared too widely. In risking that relationship, Trump has opened up the possibility for the loss of that information stream for combatting terrorism, and potentially put American lives at risk from the loss of intelligence that could inform officials about future attacks on Americans at home and abroad.

Article 3: Impairment and obstruction of inquiries by the Justice Department and Congress into the extent of the Trump administration’s conflicts of interests and Russia ties. The Trump administration has systematically impeded, avoided, or obstructed the machinery of justice to obscure its business relationships, its Russia ties, and the forces acting within the Trump White House to animate policy. The most egregious and visible examples have been Trump’s firings of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey. Each termination had what appeared to be a lawful pretext; subsequent statements or admissions have indicated each had more to do with obstructing justice than holding leaders accountable. Alongside these sackings, the Trump administration has also worked to starve Justice Department inquiries of resources and refocus investigators on suspected leaks instead of the White House’s own Russia intrigues. The Trump administration also interfered with congressional inquiries through attempting to block witnesses like Yates from appearing or selective leaking of classified information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, compromising Nunes so badly he had to recuse himself from the matter.

Article 4: Undermining of the American judicial system through felonious intimidation of potential witnesses. In his desire to continue Comey’s public humiliation, and ensure Comey remained silent about Trump’s possible sins, the president threatened Comey on Twitter with disclosure of “tapes” of their conversations. This follows a pattern of Trump roughly treating witnesses and litigation adversaries that stretches back for decades before his presidency. Since taking office, Trump has also used the bully pulpit of his office to threaten intelligence officials for purported leaks and badger former Yates before her congressional testimony. In addition to falling beneath the dignity of the presidency, these verbal assaults also constitute obstruction of justice, prohibited by federal statutes on witness intimidation, retaliation against a witness, and obstruction of federal proceedings. These attacks don’t just harm the individuals who are targeted; they assault and undermine the rule of law. As such, they constitute further grounds for impeachment of Trump and his removal from the presidency.

Article 5: Undermining of his office and the Constitution through repeated assaults on the integrity of the federal judiciary and its officers. During the presidential campaign, Trump publicly attacked federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his ethnicity, saying Curiel had been “extremely hostile to (Trump),” and that the judge had ruled against Trump because of his “Mexican heritage.” Since taking office, Trump has continued his unpresidential assaults on the federal judiciary, particularly after repeatedly losing court battles over his travel bans. At one point, he described a member of the bench as a “so-called judge,” undermining the premise of an independent judiciary. These statements also undermined both the dignity and power of the presidency, and threaten the rule of law by attacking the integrity of the federal judiciary.

Article 6: Demeaning the integrity of government and its public servants, particularly the military and intelligence agencies, in contravention of his constitutional duties to serve as chief executive and commander in chief of the armed forces. Trump swept into office with considerable disdain for the government and its military. Indeed, during his campaign, he insulted former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, and Gold Star families; criticized the military for its performance in Iraq; and said today’s generals and admirals had been “reduced to rubble” during the Obama administration. Trump carried this disdain into the presidency, through his attacks on the “deep state” of military and intelligence officials that he believed to be obstructing his agenda. He also demeaned the military and its apolitical ethos through use of military fora and audiences as public spectacle—first to sign his immigration order in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, and then to deliver rambling speeches at military and intelligence headquarters suggesting that pro-Trump elements in those agencies were grateful Trump had taken power. Trump has also continued to wage political war against his intelligence community, suggesting as recently as Tuesday morning that it was sabotaging his administration through leaking and other nefarious activities. In doing these things, Trump has undermined his constitutional office as president and commander in chief of the armed forces.

Article 7: Dereliction of his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of president by failing to timely appoint officers of the United States to administer the nation’s federal agencies. Shortly after taking office, Trump administration strategist Stephen Bannon articulated his plan for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” During its first four months in office, the Trump administration’s neglect of governance illustrates how this strategy is to be executed: delay of political appointments, failure to reach budget agreements with Congress in a timely manner, and deliberate neglect of governance and government operations. These actions and failures risk the health, welfare, and security of the nation, and represent a dereliction of Trump’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of the presidency.

Any one of the offenses above could constitute the basis for rigorous investigation of the Trump White House and its failures. Together, the totality of Trump’s malfeasance—once proven after a rigorous investigation—would likely make clear that he “warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States,” to quote from the bill of impeachment passed against President Clinton.

The time has come for Congress to act and for leaders on both sides of the aisle to put country before party and politics. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ought to, in cooperation with Democratic leaders, begin the sequence of events that would likely lead to impeachment and removal proceedings for Trump. Given that this is unlikely, Democrats should make clear of their intentions to do what is necessary under our Constitution should they win back control of the House of Representatives in 2018. This process should be as full, fair, and transparent as our Constitution requires. Anything less would demean and harm the country even more than Trump has already done.

When the World Is Led by a Child


President Trump in Washington on Monday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work.

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.

“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.

By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase “priming the pump” (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself.

He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he’d be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies.

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking.  For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.

Which brings us to the reports that Trump betrayed an intelligence source and leaked secrets to his Russian visitors. From all we know so far, Trump didn’t do it because he is a Russian agent, or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.

The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.

“We won’t get similar information again”: an intel expert on the real costs of Trump’s breach

Updated by

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

There are few people more qualified to talk about President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to the Russians than Paul Pillar. Pillar served in the CIA for 28 years, where he worked on counterterrorism and the Middle East. Today he’s a professor at Georgetown, where he studies the intelligence community and US foreign policy.

So on Monday night, I called up Pillar and asked for his thoughts about Trump’s intelligence disclosure.

He was not amused.

“This is a very serious breach,” he said. “It indicates utter disregard, or utter lack of knowledge, at the very top!”

US intelligence-gathering efforts, especially when it comes to terrorism, rely pretty fundamentally on cooperation with foreign intelligence services. They have access to knowledge, by virtue of their geographic location and language skills, that US agencies simply don’t. Some of them may even have their own spies inside terrorist groups.

So when they share a critical piece of intelligence with the United States, they do so with the explicit understanding that the US will not share that information with anyone else unless they say it’s okay. That’s because doing so could potentially endanger the lives of their spies out in the field.

A major disclosure like this, on ISIS specifically, will make countries the world over less likely to cooperate with America — hampering the US’s ability to manage the ISIS threat at a time when intelligence is becoming all the more valuable in the ISIS fight.

What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Pillar explaining why, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp

What’s your reaction to all of this?

Paul Pillar

This is a serious breach of confidence with a liaison partner — that confidence being a critical part of intelligence-sharing relationships. I see that part of the White House spin after this incident is, “Well, he didn’t talk about intelligence sources and methods.” Well, if he had, that would have been an unbelievably egregious breach as opposed to a very concerning one.

Any use, at all, of information or reporting that came from a liaison partner that goes beyond use in our own government would be seen by the liaison partner as a serious breach of trust. And the cost for us, just on the intelligence level, is the likelihood that we won’t get similar information again — at least for a little while.

Zack Beauchamp

From this partner or many other partners?

Paul Pillar

Whoever this partner is. Although there would be a secondary effect, since this is in the news, among other partners about the unreliability — or at least the hazards involved — in sharing information with the United States, if any of that information gets to the White House.

I had personal experience when I was in the business. I recall one instance in which information that came from a particular partner was leaked. It wasn’t a matter of giving it directly to the Russian foreign minister — it was just a garden-variety Washington leak, and it wound up in the papers.

This partner cut off the sharing relationship for a while. When enough time went by, I had a meeting with their service. Part of my job was to be as profusely apologetic as I could about how the leak had occurred, and to offer as many assurances as I could that this won’t happen again, and could we please resume our exchange of information?

So at the intelligence level, this is a very serious breach.

Zack Beauchamp

There are sort of two strains to what you just said. The first is that breaches of foreign intelligence happen, and that intelligence services have means of dealing with it — though it’s unpleasant for a time.

But second, this isn’t just an ordinary leak to the media. This is the president literally telling the Russian foreign minister in a meeting.

Paul Pillar


Zack Beauchamp

So how would you rate this on a scale of “conventional” to “awful and unprecedented”?

Paul Pillar

I would consider this more serious. It indicates utter disregard, or utter lack of knowledge, at the very top!

So the foreign partners will say, “My goodness, even if we’re given assurances of how carefully our information will be used — as long we’ve got this guy at the top who does this sort of thing, those US assurances don’t mean very much.”

Zack Beauchamp

So how critically does US foreign intelligence depend on foreign cooperation?

Paul Pillar

It matters a great deal.

We’d like to think that our services, whether it’s intelligence services or anything else, are the best in the world. That we’ve got the technology and the smarts. But it’s at least as much a matter of access, experience, knowledge of the local neighborhood and the local culture and the local languages that is critical in collecting the sources of information we need.

Very often, there’s somebody else who’s better at those things than we are.

I would note that the topic involved is terrorism — and that was something I was deeply involved in. I would say, on terrorism, the reliance on foreign services sharing information is at least as important as any other intelligence topic.

That’s a reflection of the fact that these foreign internal security and intelligence and sometimes national police forces are on the front lines of confronting groups. As a matter of geography and language and culture, they are closer to the problem. So they’re better able to collect against groups than we are. Especially when we’re talking about human intelligence: A well-placed human source is the best possible source you can have on this.

Zack Beauchamp

It’s kind of a painful time too, right? These leaks were about ISIS. Right now the conventional war against ISIS is winding down as they lose territory in Iraq and Syria — and turning into a fight against harder-to-find but still dangerous ISIS cells.

Paul Pillar

As long as we’ve had this ISIS mini state, then as an intelligence target it’s had a lot of the same characteristics as a real state. You can use overhead imagery; you can go after this intelligence target in the way you go after big governments with return addresses.

In many ways, it’s still not as great a challenge as the tremendous challenge that’s faced in counterterrorism: going after plots and plans and infrastructure that consists of small, clandestine, highly secured groups of individuals. So yeah, I agree.

Zack Beauchamp

Shifting gears a bit: How do you think this will affect the president’s already rocky relationship with the intelligence community?

Paul Pillar

There are going to be buildings full of rolled eyes and expressions of exasperation.

I think there will be additional hard thoughts — I expect there were already a lot of these thoughts — about just what and how information can be presented to the White House, and specifically to the president. You can’t cut the president out … the president is assumed to have every clearance there is.

Nonetheless, given that this particular president doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for a large volume of information anyway, I think there’s going to be thoughts about restricting the flow even more. Then you immediately run into questions of, well, how do you do this with the president?

That’s one set of thoughts. There will certainly be conversations — if there haven’t been already — between senior intelligence officials and the likes of [National Security Adviser] Gen. [H.R.] McMaster to discuss this as a problem. And I’m sure McMaster, even though he said the requisite things trying to downplay this publicly, realizes this was a big problem.

Zack Beauchamp

That’s the thing that gets me, thinking about this. The whole system is dependent on the president signing off on things and the president having information on things.

You said earlier that you can’t cut the president off from sensitive information — and that’s really true. For him to make even minimally informed decisions, you have to tell him some really sensitive stuff.

Paul Pillar

It’s senior people at the White House — like the national security adviser — who play a critical role here. I can imagine some really sensitive stuff coming up where [Director of National Intelligence Dan] Coats or [CIA Director Mike] Pompeo comes to McMaster and says, “Tell us how we can work with you to handle this in a way that things don’t get screwed up when the boss is finally involved.”

Here’s maybe the plus side of Trump’s weaknesses. Given how much he seems to be hands-off with regards to national security stuff — we’ve seen all the reporting about how all kinds of authority has been delegated to [Secretary of Defense James] Mattis on things — well, from the intelligence community’s point of view, that’s maybe a good thing.

Zack Beauchamp

That’s kind of a grim upside, since it comes from the president’s ignorance.

Paul Pillar

That’s exactly what I’m saying, yes.

The great debate is: Is the incompetence of this administration something we should be happy about, so they can’t do all the authoritarian awful things they would do if they were more competent? It’s kind of finding another negative to offset the first negative.

Donald Trump’s Presidency is Unraveling

Andy Ostroy [huffingtonpost.com]

Donald Trump’s biography as of November 7th, 2016 would’ve included the following: sued by the U.S. Justice Department for racial discrimination; pretended to be his own PR flaks “John Miller” and “John Barron” during calls to the media; bankrupted multiple business; questioned a sitting U.S president’s citizenship; mocked the disabled; disparaged veterans and war heroes; attacked the Pope; promoted sexism, racism and anti-Semitism; admitted sexual assaults on women; and lied 24/7. The following day, incredibly, “45th U.S President” would be added. But is it a surprise that just three months into his presidency his administration appears to be careening off the proverbial cliff at 180 MPH?

Most Americans understood how unqualified and erratic Trump was, and to the tune of 3-million votes chose Hillary Clinton instead. But that pesky little thing called the Electoral College had a different plan. By a margin of about 80,000 votes (and with some help from ex-FBI Director James Comey and Russian President Vladimir Putin) in the key “blue wall” states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump squeaked out a shocking victory. The unfortunate result is that we now have the most emotional, insecure, impulsive, petulant, volatile, mentally-unhinged and dangerous president in the history of Western democracy. It’s a bone-chilling reality.

In the past week in particular, in which Trump summarily fired Comey, the president’s unraveling could not be more spectacularly glaring. Of most concern is that Comey headed the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign and possibly Trump himself. The investigated fired the investigator. Horrible optics.

In defending against accusations of obstruction of justice, Trump and his spokespeople have gyrated between various illogical reasons for the termination: Comey’s criticism of Hillary Clinton last year; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “recommended” it due to bad morale at the bureau; Comey was a “showboat” who Trump was planning to fire anyway; Trump had steadily “lost confidence” in Comey since the inauguration (note: on April 12th Trump said he had “confidence” in Comey, and on May 3rd Spicer reaffirmed that assurance).

This utterly dizzying vortex of bullshit has been perpetuated by vice-president Mike Pence, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Principle Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Trump himself. CNN’s Dabid Chalian called this latest stunning display of lying a “crisis of credibility.” And it’s only getting worse.

‘ComeyGate’ feels appreciably different than the myriad prior Trump gaffes and scandals. The lies have become so insurmountable that Trump & Co—whose endless barrage of misrepresentations and falsehoods had typically kept the media on the ropes—is no longer ahead of them, instead falling prey in their very tangled web. The lies are coming so fast and furious from one interview and tweet to the next that the administration is failing miserably in the shift from offense to defense.

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday provided some disastrous new data for the administration: when asked for a one-word description of Trump, the top three words were “idiot,”“incompetent” and “liar.” And his approval dropped to 36% from 40% in mid-April (He’s only 111 days into his presidency. Historically, a president’s popularity erodes precipitously throughout his term).

As such, Trump’s policy agenda is in a standstill. It will be virtually impossible for him to achieve any major legislative objectives (healthcare, tax reform, immigration, infrastructure) while his honesty, credibility, integrity and legitimacy is in serious question, and while his administration appears to be coming apart at the seems.

Trump is personally spiraling out of control and sabotaging his presidency. Judging from the spate of terminations so far, (including Attorney General Sally Yates and NY federal prosecutor Preet Bharara), reports of staff infighting, frequent and critical leaks and the dark cloud of RussiaGate looming ominously over the White House, it’s hard to fathom how he can or will last four years.


Clapper’s remarks constitute the third strike for Trump

Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper on May 8 said Russia launched “cyber operations” against the Democratic and Republican parties during the 2016 presidential campaign. Clapper said Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to “advantage” President Trump’s campaign. (Reuters)

By Jennifer Rubin  [washingtonpost.com]

Strike one was the Lester Holt interview in which President Trump alleged (confessed?) that he fired former FBI director James B. Comey with the Russia investigation in mind and asked about his own legal status while discussing Comey’s job with him. Then came the tweet in which the president threatened the former FBI director and suggested conversations were being recorded. That was strike two.

Now we have former director of national intelligence James Clapper telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview that he never exonerated Trump of collusion, as Trump claimed. Morale at the FBI was high, contrary to Trump’s claim. And he could not conceive of Comey telling Trump about the status of an investigation while discussing his job. “I would find that very inconsistent with what I know of Jim Comey,” Clapper said.”Moreover, anyone who’s in a position that’s subject to Senate confirmation — presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, which his is, mine was — understands that you serve at the pleasure of,” Clapper said, trailing off.  “And it would really be, I think, inappropriate, and certainly in Jim’s case, out of character, for him to ask to stay on,” he continued. “I couldn’t imagine doing that myself, nor can I imagine him doing that either.”

Clapper made clear that Comey was uncomfortable since “he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president, and that he was uneasy with that because of even compromising the — even the optics, the appearance of independence, not only of him, but of the FBI.”

Trump’s telling of the dinner now appears to be the sort of lie one would concoct if you didn’t know enough about how government works to come up with a credible story.

There are two problems coming together at once. First, the president is blabbing about actions (real or not) that would constitute abuse of power, if not obstruction of justice. It is coming from his mouth. He does not even have the excuse of “fake news.” Second, because the Comey firing sent events spinning out of control, the president now appears to be irrational, if not ill. No one in control of his emotions or taking counsel from sober advisers would behave as he is.

Former White House adviser Peter Wehner remarks, “The problem for Republicans is that given who Trump is — given that his problems are temperamental and characterological and therefore won’t be cured — I think it’s quite likely that at some point many of them will be forced to break with him; that his actions will be so transgressive, so problematic, so embarrassing and so unpopular that it’ll become in their self-interest to distance themselves from a president who clearly is not a well man.” We don’t know when that will be. One imagines that they cannot function in this mode for very long. “What we’re seeing can be compared to the metaphor of the frog in the water that begins at a tepid temperature but get hotter and hotter and eventually boils the frog to death,” Wehner observes. “Right now Republicans are in the water, it’s beginning to boil, and if they don’t jump soon, this will have a very bad ending for them.”

Now would be a good time for the adults — former presidents, secretaries of state and defense, former FBI and CIA directors and past heads of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee — to speak up in unison. The president has either confessed to a pattern of conduct that is unacceptable or he is so out of it that he would make up facts that suggest a pattern of conduct that it is unacceptable. There are options here, including commencement of bipartisan impeachment hearings, legislation passed by a veto-proof majority to enlist an independent prosecutor and/or a decision that, aside from national security matters, the Congress will devote itself full-time to the resolution of this entire matter over the next few weeks. Vice President Pence, who has been repeatedly lied to in service of actions to deceive the public, needs to remember he serves the country, not the president.

Action needs to be taken before too much damage is done to the republic. The GOP is lost, but the country can be protected.


Trump Just Incriminated Himself

By   [nymag.com]

Trump’s actions this week are simply unacceptable. Photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

At the center of the Comey firing is, it seems to me, a simple question. Is the presidency of Donald Trump a threat to liberal democracy? This has always been the question. It’s why his presidency is different than any other. Yes, there are policy goals that can be debated — health care, foreign policy, mass immigration, etc — and he can be opposed or supported on those grounds. There are appointments — or a stunning lack of them across the executive branch — that reflect amateurishness and incompetence outside the norm. There are habits — like Trump’s tweeting — that degrade the office of the president. There are skills — such as shepherding legislation through Congress — that may be absent, and their absence might even be a cause for relief. There is evidence that the president knows close to nothing about the world — see this latest jaw-dropping interview with The Economist, where he imagines you can buy health insurance for $15 a month. And there are clear indications he is off his rocker — see this staggering exchange about steam, “digital,” and aircraft carriers in an interview with Time. These are horrifying indications he is unfit for the office he holds. But they can all be handled within the boundaries of democratic electoral accountability — and, with any luck, will be in 2018 and 2020.

The core concern was always deeper than this. It was that Trump doesn’t understand the Constitution he has sworn to protect; that he would abuse his executive power, to lash out at enemies; that he would undermine the rule of law by trying to get his way, consequences be damned; that he would turn vital democratic institutions, such as the Justice Department and the FBI, into mere handmaidens of his own interest, rather than guarantors of the public’s. And it is clear to me that the firing of Comey — while within the president’s Constitutional powers — falls squarely into this category. To fire someone who is conducting an investigation into your own campaign cannot help but be seen as an interference with the rule of law. It is to cast doubt on the integrity of that investigation, and its future. It undermines public confidence that the executive branch can enforce the law against itself. It politicizes what should not be politicized. It crosses a clear line.

And it also crosses a line when you keep lying brazenly about why you did it. You don’t pin it on Rod Rosenstein. You don’t pretend it’s about “showboating.” You don’t ludicrously argue that you’ve just finally realized that Comey did Hillary wrong. You don’t also say that you were going to fire him anyway. You don’t say the FBI was in turmoil under Comey, when it wasn’t. And you don’t say you want to get to the bottom of the matter when you have already declared the entire story a hoax. More to the point, you don’t lie about all these things and then go on television and blurt out the truth: “When I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russian thing with Trump and Russia … is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.” Read that again. The president has just said on national television that the Russia investigation was in the front of his mind when he decided impulsively to fire Comey. He has admitted he wanted to remove the FBI director because his investigation — which is fast intensifying — was targeting his campaign. That is called obstruction of justice. His spokeswoman yesterday reiterated that, after the Comey firing, the administration hoped the Russia investigation, which was trivial, would be wound up soon.

All of this is simply unacceptable. An attempt to obstruct justice is an impeachable offense. And Trump has just openly admitted to such a thing. When, one wonders, will the patriots in the Republican Party stand up and confront this? If Clinton had done such a thing, the House would be drawing up articles of impeachment right now. We saw their pusillanimity last spring as this malign buffoon manhandled his way to the nomination. It has not abated. Comey may have made mistakes; he may have had a Messiah complex; he may go down in history as a self-righteous prick who interfered in an election. But he is obviously and transparently independent — the key criterion for any FBI director. He has angered both Democrats and Republicans over the years — and this very ability to stand up to the Bush administration and the Clinton campaign at critical moments made him someone you could count on to get to the bottom of the Russia affair. I might add: I’m a skeptic about whether there’s anything there on the Russia stuff that directly implicates Trump in criminal dealings. But Comey was my reassurance that someone would have the tools to get to the bottom of it, whatever it was. Now, if I am not to be stupefyingly naive, I have to assume the president is guilty of something and is busy rigging the system to stymie any attempt to bring potential traitors to justice. And yes: This is about the possibility of treason against our democratic system. And the president, chumming it up with Lavrov and Kislyak the next day, seems incensed that there is even an investigation at all.

If this is swept under the rug, we take one giant step toward the authoritarianism Trump has always threatened. When a democracy believes its own president can put his finger on the scales of justice whenever his own interests are at stake, and get away with it, it is on its way to disintegration. I hope the Senate understands that this is not a drill. There needs now to be an independent prosecutor to take charge of the FBI case. If there isn’t, the checks in our system will have failed.


The Trump-Russia Nexus


The acting director of the F.B.I., Andrew McCabe, told Congress on Thursday that President Trump’s firing of James Comey has not derailed the agency’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Which is good news. Despite Mr. Trump’s assertion that the idea of collusion is “a total hoax,” and despite many unknowns, the links continue to pile up. Here is a partial accounting of the connections we do know something about.

THE TRUMP FAMILY BUSINESS There may be no Trump Tower in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but it is not for lack of trying. Mr. Trump and his family have sought to do business in Russia since at least the 1980s. They have also developed extensive commercial and personal relationships with politically connected Russian businessmen. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York,” according to eTurboNews, a travel industry news site. The author James Dodson said that another son, Eric Trump, told him in 2013 that Russians have bankrolled Trump golf courses: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” Eric Trump denies saying that.

In addition, Donald Trump worked with the Agalarov family, a prominent Russian business group, to host the 2013 edition of his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Mr. Trump met more than a dozen of the country’s most prominent oligarchs while he was there, Bloomberg News reported. Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump and is a senior adviser to the president, has also been caught up in the Russia story. During the transition, Mr. Kushner met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, as well as with the top executive of a Russian government-owned bank.

The world would know much more about Mr. Trump’s foreign partnerships if he had released his tax returns, as every president has done for the last 40 years.

MICHAEL FLYNN Mr. Flynn, the former national security adviser, had several conversations with Mr. Kislyak during the transition in which they discussed American sanctions against Russia. Mr. Trump fired Mr. Flynn after public disclosure that the had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of those talks. In addition, RT, a Russian government-backed news outlet, paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 for giving a speech in December 2015 in Moscow. On the same trip, he sat next to President Vladimir Putin at an RT gala. The Pentagon is investigating whether Mr. Flynn, a retired military intelligence officer, failed to disclose and obtain approval from the State and Defense Departments before taking money from a foreign government.

JEFF SESSIONS Mr. Sessions, the attorney general, said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he did not have any contacts with Russian officials while he was actively campaigning for Mr. Trump. In fact, he met with Mr. Kislyak twice, once in his Senate office and once at the Republican National Convention.

PAUL MANAFORT Mr. Manafort, a former chairman of the Trump campaign, worked as a consultant for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine and for Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by the Kremlin. Mr. Manafort has been accused of receiving secret payments from the pro-Russia party. About a decade earlier, Mr. Manafort also worked for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Mr. Putin. The Associated Press obtained a memo he wrote to Mr. Deripaska offering a plan that he said would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

CARTER PAGE American officials believe that Mr. Page, a foreign policy adviser, had contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign. He also gave a pro-Russia speech in Moscow in July 2016. Mr. Page was once employed by Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office, where he worked with Gazprom, a government-owned energy giant.

ROGER STONE Mr. Stone, an informal but close Trump adviser, exchanged messages last summer with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter account widely believed to be a front for Russian intelligence operatives who were involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. During the campaign, Mr. Stone seemed to know in advance that WikiLeaks would release emails from the account of John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Mr. Trump and his associates can cry themselves hoarse that there is neither smoke nor fire here. But all in all, the known facts suggest an unusually extensive network of relationships with a major foreign power. Anyone who cares about the credibility of the American electoral process should want a thorough investigation of whether and how Russia interfered in the election and through whom.