February 21, 2020

More news today about the intelligence briefing that led to Trump firing acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

First of all, observers see the replacement of an intelligence officer who reported the truth with a toady as a five-alarm fire. Today, retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the commander who oversaw the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, broke the military’s reluctance to comment on politics with an op-ed in the Washington Post. Discussing the firing of Maguire, he concluded: “As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.”

Political writer Greg Sargent was clear: [L]et’s not mince words: Trump and his GOP defenders appear to be actively abetting an attack on our country.” He points out that a bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that Russia targeted voting systems in all 50 states in 2016, likely so they could figure out how it worked for future havoc. Their goal is “undermining the integrity of elections and American confidence in democracy.”

And Trump and GOP leaders are letting it happen.

The intelligence briefing that so angered Trump, in which intelligence officials warned members of the congressional intelligence committees that Russia was working for Trump’s reelection, also delivered the news that Russia has been working to promote the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). And yet, given information they could use against a Democrat at a crucial moment, Trump and his people instead said that this information just proves the party is against Sanders, precisely what it appears Russian propagandists are saying.

(For his part, when asked about it, Sanders said he had received a briefing “about a month ago” but had not revealed it publicly because “I go to many intelligence briefings which I don’t reveal to the public.” In a statement, he said: “I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president…. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”)

Tonight, news broke that Trump is planning to prevent the publication of John Bolton’s book, which allegedly ties Trump directly to the Ukraine Scandal, until after the election. Trump plans to declare that everything he said to Bolton while he was Trump’s National Security Advisor was classified. He says Bolton is “a traitor.”

The book’s publication date is March 17, but if it comes out without the final approval of the National Security Council Bolton might face a criminal investigation and, possibly, forfeit his seven-figure advance. Since Bolton was well aware of the limits of what he could safely talk about, and since his lawyer’s initial letter about the final classified check reminded the office that it should be seen only by the person responsible for checking it, not by the president’s people, and since the White House made and circulated multiple copies, it seems to me likely Bolton would win in a legal struggle with Trump. But that will take a long time.

Meanwhile, Trump has been purging the White House of anyone who cooperated with the impeachment probe, but now has expanded that purge, instructing his aides to identify anyone not considered sufficiently loyal to the president so they can be forced out. Apparently, Jared Kushner and Trump’s children have been key players in making this push, intending to concentrate more power amongst themselves.

This is the key reason to put Richard Grenell at the head of national intelligence, along with former Nunes aide Kash Patel. Already, Grenell has asked for information from the CIA and other intelligence agencies about the information that Russia is already attacking the 2020 election. Looking at intelligence is, of course, now his job, although his fitness for the position was thrown into question even further today when news broke that, although he never registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, he worked for a Moldovan oligarch who is now a fugitive banned from the U.S. Patel was the lead author of the “Nunes Memo” of two years ago, accusing FBI and Justice Department officials of starting the Russia investigation because they were biased against Trump. It is a matter of concern that Grenell and Patel are now in charge of the information about Russian attacks on our country today.

Hiring people based on their loyalty to Trump means that the competent leadership has been replaced by people whose major skill is their ability to please a man whose interests do not run to deep understanding. This is consistent with the GOP idea that government is useless and should be dismantled, and that businessmen should control the levers of power instead of politicians.

Today, a video circulated of Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany and now our acting Director of National Intelligence, saying that there is no need to have an embassy staff analyzing political currents in foreign countries because “we can get that information off the internet.” Instead, he wants to revamp embassies to make them “mini-commerce sections” full of “economic specialists.” (The State Department, of course, became the power it is now after WWII proved that economic interests demanded a thorough understanding of other nations’ cultures and politics, and careful, long-term diplomacy to enable us to work out differences with other countries.)

Perhaps even more disturbing at this particular moment is that the U.S. currently has no expert at the National Security Council who specializes in pandemics. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today that the window is closing for containing the worldwide spread of the coronavirus (officially SARS-CoV-2) after new cases turned up in Lebanon and Iran. But in May 2018, when he was National Security Advisor, Bolton broke up the team in charge of global health security and pushed out its leader, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer.

It is clear that the administration does not have a clear plan for managing the disease. There is already finger-pointing and anger today over the fact that State Department officials and a top Trump official overruled officials of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to evacuate 14 Americans infected with coronavirus in an airplane from Japan with 314 uninfected passengers.

The Americans were traveling on the cruise ship the Diamond Princess out of Yokohama for a 15-day cruise when it turned out the ship had carried a man with the virus for 5 days before he left to go to a hospital. The ship returned to Yokohama where Japanese officials quarantined the passengers for fourteen days to make sure there were no other cases. There were. The disease spread on the ship, and after two weeks, the State Department decided to evacuate the Americans. But, once the Americans were aboard buses to the airport, lab reports showed that 14 were infected. Officials from the CDC explicitly recommended that they not be evacuated with the others, but were overruled. CNN reported today that Trump was not told ahead of time that the infected passengers would be brought back home along with the others, and is furious.

And one final note: Roger Stone is trying to get a new trial, based on the idea that the jury in his first trial was biased. He has asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to recuse herself from ruling on his motion for a new trial because she herself is biased: she praised the jurors for serving “with integrity under difficult circumstances.”

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Notes:

Maguire: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/william-mcraven-if-good-men-like-joe-maguire-cant-speak-the-truth-we-should-be-deeply-afraid/2020/02/21/2068874c-5503-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0PzmVNhhvxOtyzJukato-sHUGA5Ae9R2d7E8bqX7ibCZVKmH2nW7oRUfs&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

Senate report: https://www.vox.com/2019/7/25/8930616/senate-intelligence-report-russia-50-states

Grenell and Patel: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/21/us/politics/richard-grenell-dni.html?action=click&module=Top+Stories&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR1GsPGoHkHaBgtB6UKXRsmzNvZN6eDyg3s1-fzpmzdqvzjc_yw48ZQHVxQ

https://www.propublica.org/article/trumps-new-spy-chief-used-to-work-for-a-foreign-politician-the-us-accused-of-corruption

Sargent: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/21/dont-mince-words-trump-is-abetting-an-attack-our-country/?fbclid=IwAR0icI5CLk8T6v8bbI3otVXfobmTidxMmmJmy33qBuM6N5ZaNPkLmMJObXA

Purge: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/were-cleaning-it-out-trump-embarks-on-expansive-search-for-disloyalty-as-administration-wide-purge-escalates/2020/02/21/870e6c56-54c1-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0u01x7OuPARyMJbmOolktVr0rYvwhlAcgc3GYouIiAKm5scHQ1SM-LiKc

https://www.axios.com/scoop-white-house-personnel-chief-targets-never-trumpers-2ee51bfd-03f9-4971-8308-863c81ace5f0.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=organic&utm_content=1100

Nunes Memo: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/us/politics/trump-fbi-memo.html

Sanders: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/bernie-sanders-briefed-by-us-officials-that-russia-is-trying-to-help-his-presidential-campaign/2020/02/21/5ad396a6-54bd-11ea-929a-64efa7482a77_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/21/us/politics/bernie-sanders-russia.html

WHO: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-china-health-who/world-must-act-fast-to-contain-coronavirus-whos-tedros-idUKKBN20F285

Ziemer: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/

Bolton’s book: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-wants-to-block-boltons-book-claiming-all-conversations-are-classified/2020/02/21/6a4f4b34-54d1-11ea-9e47-59804be1dcfb_story.html#click=https://t.co/t10OeA7Bf4

Grenell:

Diamond Princess: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-diamond-princess-cruise-americans/2020/02/20/b6f54cae-5279-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/21/politics/trump-coronavirus-cruise-ship/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-to-evacuate-americans-from-cruise-ship-and-put-them-in-14-days-quarantine/2020/02/15/8b05eadc-4fc1-11ea-a4ab-9f389ce8ad30_story.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/484157-trump-furious-after-officials-allowed-americans-with-coronavirus-to

Stone: