Rep. Adam Schiff’s Opening Statement Outlining Basis of Russia Investigation

Prepared text of the statement that Rep. Schiff delivered in the video embedded above:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds this first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 Presidential election.

Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States.

The Russian “active measures” campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spearphishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington-based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through winter of 2016.

While at first, the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence, in mid-2016, the Russians “weaponized” the stolen data and used platforms established by their intel services, such as DC Leaks and existing third party channels like Wikileaks, to dump the documents.

The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton and, by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.

None of these facts is seriously in question and they are reflected in the consensus conclusions of all our intelligence agencies.

We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign in which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.

Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been similarly interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades. What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on earth. That ought to be a warning to us, that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong. And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will have only ourselves to blame.

We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like RT, the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is also a lot we do not know.

Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of Trump’s campaign personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.

In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they have used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They have employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here, but they have also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.

The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the Chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation we have signed. We will also examine whether the intelligence community’s public assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. Government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier, and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem. We have also reviewed whether there was any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower – and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation – and we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest.

Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with you the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are not important – they are very important – but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize, of course, that you may not be able to answer many of our questions in open session. You may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is any investigation. But we hope to present to you and the public why we believe this matter is of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation, not only by us, as we intend to do, but by the FBI as well.

Let me give you a little preview of what I expect you will be asked by our members.

Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence, or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know, and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this: the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?

Here are some of the matters, drawn from public sources alone, since that is all we can discuss in this setting, that concern us and should concern all Americans.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises Wikileaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he “has communicated with Assange,” and that more documents would be coming, including an “October surprise.” In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.”

In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #Lockherup. “Payload coming,” he predicts, and two days later, it does. Wikileaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to election day.

On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit, RT, and other Russian entities in the past. In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation. The Vice President, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened. The President is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The President does nothing. Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the President is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The President then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.

Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke – the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be the victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?

Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.

Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you, in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators, with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts. And in addition to this investigation, we still have our day job, which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country, agencies, which, by the way, are trained to keep secrets.

I point this out for two reasons: First, because we cannot do this work alone. Nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly; to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country. We also need your full cooperation with our own investigation, so that we have the benefit of what you may know, and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff and resources to this investigation that we do not have, and that can be completely removed from any political considerations. This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committees should and must do, but as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11.

The stakes are nothing less than the future of liberal democracy.

We are engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in this struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.

Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from the further Russian interference we know is coming. Only then can we help protect our European allies who are, as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.

Finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing, that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy, but bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues, or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the earliest stages of this investigation. That is to be expected. The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible. The truth is, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: If this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will and, after exhaustive work, reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest.

So let us try. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

Via Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Schiff Opening Statement During Hearing on Russian Active Measures @ U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence website.

Trump White House Posts Satirical Essay That Actually Ridicules Trump Budget Plan

Hard to believe but true: the official White House Daily 1600 (a daily briefing @ https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600daily) touts a Washington Post satirical essay mocking Trump’s budget approach as though the essay were favorable (as of 11:37 AM ET).

           Screenshot from MARCH 17, 2017 AT 11:37 AM ET BY 1600DAILY  @ https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600daily

Alexandra Petri’s Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why must have been attractive to a White House staff that saw the headline, but did not bother to read the essay.

Anyone who bothers actually to read the essay – anyone able to read English – would know that Petri’s work is a joke, and mocks the Trump budget plan.

Consider just a few sections from her slam of Trump’s budget:

This budget will make America a lean, mean fighting machine with bulging, rippling muscles and not an ounce of fat. America has been weak and soft for too long. BUT HOW WILL I SURVIVE ON THIS BUDGET? you may be wondering. I AM A HUMAN CHILD, NOT A COSTLY FIGHTER JET. You may not survive, but that is because you are SOFT and WEAK, something this budget is designed to eliminate….

Agriculture Department: NO MORE OF THIS NAMBY-PAMBY “GATHERING” NONSENSE. We will be HUNTERS again. This is also why we are cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children: Let them FIGHT for their meat or have NONE…

AMERICA WILL BE STRONGER THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN! Anyone who survives will be a gun covered in the fur of a rare mammal, capable of fighting disease with a single muscular flex. RAW POWER! HARD RAW POWER GRRRRRR HISSS POW!

It will be great.

Imagine hiring a White House staff so lazy or so incompetent that it places on the executive office’s own website paragraph after paragraph deriding the chief executive’s plans. They’ll take it down, to be sure; their problem is that they put it up in the first place. Trump declared that upon taking office he was “going to surround [himself] only with the best and most serious people.”

We’ve a kakistocracy instead.

Trump’s Ex-National Security Adviser Flynn Paid Tens of Thousands by Russian Companies

Putin takes care of his useful friends. March 16, 2017 12:00 p.m. CT – Documents obtained by a congressional oversight committee reveal business interests that were previously undisclosed:

President Trump’s former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, was paid tens of thousands of dollars by Russian companies shortly before he became a formal adviser to the then-candidate, according to documents obtained by a congressional oversight committee that revealed business interests that hadn’t been previously known.

Mr. Flynn was paid $11,250 each by a Russian air cargo company that had been suspended as a vendor to the United Nations following a corruption scandal, and by a Russian cybersecurity company that was then trying to expand its business with the U.S. government.

Those engagements took place in the summer and fall of 2015, a year after he had been fired as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and while he continued to maintain a top-secret level security clearance.

In December 2015, the Kremlin-backed news organization RT also paid Mr. Flynn $33,750 to speak about U.S. foreign policy and intelligence matters at a conference in Moscow.

Via Mike Flynn Worked for Other Russian Companies Besides RT: documents @ Wall Street Journal.

U.S. indicts Russian spies in breach of 500 million Yahoo accounts

Ellen Nakashima reports on U.S. Justice Department’s charges against agents of the Putin regime – whose leader Trump only recently praised (“I always knew he was very smart!“) – for a vast hacking of American business (Yahoo & realated entities) and consumers:

The Justice Department announced Wednesday the indictments of two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with the heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014, marking the first U.S. criminal cyber charges ever against Russian government officials.The indictments target two members of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and two hackers hired by the Russians.

The charges include hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft and economic espionage, according to officials. The indictments are part of the largest hacking case brought by the United States.

Mark Hamill’s Two-Point Plan

Regarding Trump, Mark Hamill (that Mark Hamill, the one who plays Luke Skywalker), tweeted that two aspects of recent politics deserve diligent inquiry:

Of all Trump’s objectionable actions and qualities, these two topics – Russian involvement in the election and Trump’s taxes – are wisely chosen: they both address questions of law and legitimacy, and they are both related to whether Trump is Putin’s useful fool. (Looking at his tax returns would show Trump’s income and how significantly that income rests on Russian loans.)

That’s not all there is to Trump, to be sure: he has other objectionable qualities.

Yet for it all, there’s never been a president so servile, so fawning, before a foreign leader as Trump is toward Putin. (No one thought, for example, that Nixon was weak on the dictators then in Moscow and Beijing. Quite the opposite: Only Nixon could go to China, for example, precisely because he was considered firm, not fawning, to that foreign power.)

There’s much to go, and many setbacks yet ahead, but Trump shows every sign of being Putin’s tiny dancing monkey.

An Eminent Psychiatrist on Trump

Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, who served as chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV), on 2.14.17 sent a letter to the New York Times in which he addresses questions about Donald Trump’s mental state. (SeeAn Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump’s Mental State.)

Frances is addressing a debate about whether Trump is mentally ill (Andrew Sullivan, The Madness of King Donald) or is simply a lifelong conniver who has profited from his misconduct (Eric Posner, Is Trump Mentally Unstable?)

Dr. Frances concludes that Trump’s behavior is worse than a person with mental illness, that Trump shows no signs of distress from his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy” (as a clinically-ill person would), and so suggesting Trump is mentally ill only stigmatizes those who suffer from properly-diagnosed conditions.

The full text of letter appears below (emphasis mine).

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

ALLEN FRANCES

Coronado, Calif.

Needless to say, I’ve neither the ability nor inclination to diagnose Trump; the better course is to defer to the judgment of those properly trained for this work (as Allen Frances surely is).

Frances’s point, however – that Trump’s “psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab” – seems profoundly right. The Ancients, with a sense of psyche but without the insights of modern psychiatry, yet would have been able to understand Trump well. We are right to see him as they would have, and as Dr. Frances does, and to conclude that the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

A Grand Coalition Forms

Conservative Jennifer Rubin describes, in E Pluribus Unum vs. Trump, both the building coalition against Trump and the powerful nature of that coalition.

She’s right that what seemed unlikely a few weeks ago is real now:

Just a couple of weeks ago, critics of post-inaugural protesters argued the anti-President Trump movement lacked coherence. Too many small, identity-politics issues, the marcher-watching pundits sniffed. Well, as we imagined, Trump has provided the unifying theme and emotional inspiration, one that can galvanize Americans from many walks of life and political persuasions.

That coalition has more than numbers behind it. Rubin sees that those in opposition to Trump, wherever they may stand ideologically, are capable, talented, and accomplished:

Just as Trump forged his coalition with a nationalist, xenophobic message, opponents have now found their common cause — protecting America as a tolerant, dynamic place that derives real benefits from — and in some instances cannot operate without — international talent, markets and travel. Productive, innovative and modern Americans now have a common cause. Regardless of ideological differences on a host of issues, they now see defense of the international liberal (small “l”) ideal as critical to the country’s economic, political and psychological health. They do not want to be dragged back to the 1950s (as if such a thing were possible) or lose talent and capital that will go elsewhere if the United States turns inward.

Where does this leave us? Rubin concludes:

A wide and deep coalition of students, teachers, scientists, high-tech and industrial workers and CEOs, state and local leaders, religious leaders and Americans of all political stripes now has its message and calling: America is great because it is free, welcoming, dynamic, generous, exerts leadership in the world and has institutions (e.g., an independent judiciary, a free press) that promote inclusion and success (however we define it). If anti-Trump Americans aim to reinforce those qualities and the institutions that promote them, then the know-nothing populists and xenophobic characters who occupy the White House will not destroy what makes America great.

See, also, from Javier Corrales, Five Reasons the Opposition Is in Good Shape to Fight Trump (“The Opposition is Not Confused…The Opposition is Not Demoralized…The Opposition is Not Fragmented…The Opposition is Not Alone…The Opposition Won’t Be Blamed.”)

There is a long road ahead, and there will be significant setbacks, but this campaign is politically existential, and there will be no relent.

Full Transcript of Trump’s Black History Month Remarks

Well, the election, it came out really well. Next time we’ll triple the number or quadruple it. We want to get it over 51, right? At least 51.

Well this is Black History Month, so this is our little breakfast, our little get-together. Hi Lynn, how are you? Just a few notes. During this month, we honor the tremendous history of African-Americans throughout our country. Throughout the world, if you really think about it, right? And their story is one of unimaginable sacrifice, hard work, and faith in America. I’ve gotten a real glimpse—during the campaign, I’d go around with Ben to a lot of different places I wasn’t so familiar with. They’re incredible people. And I want to thank Ben Carson, who’s gonna be heading up HUD. That’s a big job. That’s a job that’s not only housing, but it’s mind and spirit. Right, Ben? And you understand, nobody’s gonna be better than Ben.

Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. It turned out that that was fake news. Fake news. The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the—and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King. But they said the statue, the bust of Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.

I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.

I’m proud to honor this heritage and will be honoring it more and more. The folks at the table in almost all cases have been great friends and supporters. Darrell—I met Darrell when he was defending me on television. And the people that were on the other side of the argument didn’t have a chance, right? And Paris has done an amazing job in a very hostile CNN community. He’s all by himself. You’ll have seven people, and Paris. And I’ll take Paris over the seven. But I don’t watch CNN, so I don’t get to see you as much as I used to. I don’t like watching fake news. But Fox has treated me very nice. Wherever Fox is, thank you.

We’re gonna need better schools and we need them soon. We need more jobs, we need better wages, a lot better wages. We’re gonna work very hard on the inner city. Ben is gonna be doing that, big league. That’s one of the big things that you’re gonna be looking at. We need safer communities and we’re going to do that with law enforcement. We’re gonna make it safe. We’re gonna make it much better than it is right now. Right now it’s terrible, and I saw you talking about it the other night, Paris, on something else that was really—you did a fantastic job the other night on a very unrelated show.

I’m ready to do my part, and I will say this: We’re gonna work together. This is a great group, this is a group that’s been so special to me. You really helped me a lot. If you remember I wasn’t going to do well with the African-American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting—and I won’t go into details—but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years. And now we’re gonna take that to new levels. I want to thank my television star over here—Omarosa’s actually a very nice person, nobody knows that. I don’t want to destroy her reputation but she’s a very good person, and she’s been helpful right from the beginning of the campaign, and I appreciate it. I really do. Very special.

So I want to thank everybody for being here.

Via A Full Transcript Of Donald Trump’s Black History Month Remarks.

The ‘Balls & Strikes’ View

There’s an interesting exchange between conservative Trump-critic Evan McMullin and conservative Josh Hammer worth considering. The exchange shows the divide among conservatives about Trump. (There’s also a divide among conservatives about whether anti-Trump conservatives are, in fact, conservatives. To this libertarian, they all look sufficiently conservative; that intra-tribe debate is not one in which I’m engaged.)

First the highlights of the exchange:

2:50 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer  He’s obsessed with virtue signaling to MSNBC, NYT, Shaun King, and the rest of the clown show, and is incapable of anything but Trump hatred

3:44 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @Evan_McMullin Josh, I’m sincerely disappointed that this is how you feel.

3:45 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer So show more nuance in actually calling balls and strikes with Trump (as most of us Trump skeptics are), instead of just blasting him 24/7.

What it shows:

  1. Hammer contends that one should call balls & strikes with Trump, but that assumes Trump is a normal political figure, playing by normal rules of the game. Those who oppose Trump don’t accept that he’s within the American political tradition. Hammer also assumes that he – and others – are in a position to play the role of umpire with Trump. If Trump’s even half so bad as those opponents believe him to be, there’s no umpire that Trump will respect.
  2. Hammer thinks that McMullin’s criticisms are virtue-signaling to particular people and institutions. I neither know nor care; the principal question is whether Trump is autocratic.
  3. Hammer call himself a Trump skeptic. Just as one needn’t be an advocate, one needn’t be a skeptic. Some of us are opponents – that others are advocates or (as Hammer sees himself) skeptics is unpersuasive to us. Nuance looks like acquiescence and appeasement.
  4. There’s likely an aspect of intra-conservative peer pressure here: who’s securely within the group, who’s too close to dreaded adversaries outside the group. The real signaling isn’t virtue-signaling to outsiders – it’s signaling to insiders, a profession of countless orthodoxies to reassure one’s fellows of an ideologically correct and pure kinship. Those outside may never notice, but one can be assured that others inside will notice and will care.

There’s a funny local aspect to this, that brings to mind a story about when I began publishing this blog. At the time, someone related to me the concerns of a town notable about my blog. It took me a while (truly) to realize that the concerns mattered to her because someone in authority had expressed them. SeeAn Anecdote About an Appeal to (but not of) Authority. The source of the concerns was unimportant to me, as it was their substantive value that was worth considering. For some, however, social pressure drives debate and discussion.

Intra-conservative or intra-liberal debates will haunt much of the consideration of Trump, at least for now. They are interesting, but unpersuasive, to those outside those particular environs.

Britian’s Foreign Minister Uses Van Halen Defense to Justify Trump State Visit

There’s a debate in Parliament about whether to extend a state visit to Donald Trump. Trying to mount a defense of a Trump visit, the British foreign minister had this to say about why Trump should be accorded the honor:

Boris Johnson tells the House that he believes “both Nicolae Ceausescu and Robert Mugabe have been entertained by Her Majesty”.

The foreign minister’s argument in favor of Trump is that, after all, there have been worse people – dictators and mass murders – invited to see the Queen.

This is the Van Halen defense: I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.

David Frum Asks: Should a Patriotic American Work for Donald Trump?

Conservative David Frum (with whom a libertarian would have many differences) yet asks and answers rightly the question, Should a Patriotic American Work for Donald Trump?

Frum draws a distinction between personal service to Trump and government positions that are removed from the president:

A law-abiding person will want to stay as far as possible from the personal service of President Trump. As demonstrated by the sad example of Press Secretary Sean Spicer spouting glaring lies on his first day on the job, this president will demand that his aides do improper things—and the low standards of integrity in Trump’s entourage create a culture of conformity to those demands.

After considering service at different levels within the government, Frum concludes with two questions for a potential applicant. They’re both important, but it’s the second one of the two that’s truly telling (my emphasis):

So maybe the very first thing to consider, if the invitation comes, is this: How well do you know yourself? How sure are you that you indeed would say no [to injustices]?

And then humbly consider this second troubling question: If the Trump administration were as convinced as you are that you would do the right thing—would they have asked you in the first place?

It’s tragically plain: what Trump expects of others a just man or woman would never do.

Principled Conservatives Organize Against Trump

One needn’t be a conservative to admire the efforts of thoughtful conservatives to organize against Trump.  Evan McMullin and Mindy Flynn have now launched Stand Up Republic to resist the Trump agenda from a conservative vantage. Jennifer Rubin reports on this in Evan McMullin makes a splash by going after Trump and Putin. Above, I’ve a video accompanying the launch of their 501(c)(4) organization. (It’s designed to appeal directly to conservatives who rightly find Trump’s authoritarianism objectionable.)

Rubin quotes McMullin on Trump’s use of lies:

“Undermining truth is a typical authoritarian tactic. It is incredibly dangerous,” McMullin explains. If truth is up for debate, then leaders “cannot be held accountable.” He continues, “Accountability depends on Americans’ ability to know the truth. Undermining truth is a way to undermine other sources of information. If they’ve done that, they can provide their own narrative.” Welcome to the era of Trump, and the response it is evoking. “We never thought we’d be talking about this in America,” he says with the same incredulity many are expressing about Trump’s attachment to easily disproved lies.

Gaps on many issues between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians (as I am) probably are as Rubin notes ‘unbridgeable,’ but McMullin’s more general critique of Trump is, and will be, welcome. She writes of McMullin’s insight on this point:

While he is conservative, McMullin has confidence that his message will have resonance on both sides of the aisle. “We saw this very interesting thing. Most of our support in the campaign was from constitutional conservatives,” he tells me. “Since the election we have gotten a ton of people joining from the left. They came because we are standing up for the Constitution.” Despite real, unbridgeable differences on policy issues, he says, “We see an existing common ground to defend these [democratic] institutions. It’s organic. We don’t have to compromise anything.”

We’ve likely a long and hard path before us, with more than a few setbacks along the way. A grand coalition will serve well for all of us who share a common commitment in opposition & resistance.

Why Trump’s Staff Lies

Tyler Cowen, writing at Bloomberg, offers an explanation of Why Trump’s Staff Is Lying:

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

In this view, loyalty tests are especially frequent for new hires and at the beginning of new regimes, when the least is known about the propensities of subordinates. You don’t have to view President Trump as necessarily making a lot of complicated calculations, rather he may simply be replicating tactics that he found useful in his earlier business and media careers.

It’s worth noting that Trump’s demand that others lie may derive from a character deficiency, as so is more fiundamental to Trump than either complicated calculations or even useful replicated tactics ever could be.

Hat tip to  for the link.

Tumulty Finds Sycophancy’s Hard to Shake

Trump Press Sec. Spicer gave a dishonest statement about crowd size on Saturday (“White House press secretary attacks media for accurately reporting inauguration crowds“), and spent a bit over an hour in a dishonest and maudlin press conference on Monday (“This time Sean Spicer smiles, spins, pledges not to lie“).

It was a first conventional press conference of ordinary length, an average number of questions, and no particular specificity.

For it all, Karen Tumulty finds sycophancy hard to shake. Despite her colleague Margaret Sullivan’s warning that The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead. And Trump’s press secretary killed it, Tumulty pushed a string of fawning tweets & retweets(from 1:09 PM – 23 Jan 2017 to 2:07 PM – 23 Jan 2017) during Spicer’s press conference:

@PressSec doing a solid, professional job. #reboot

“Knowing what we know now, we can tell WMATA’s numbers were different.” — @presssec”I’m going to stay here as long as you want. … I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship.” — @PressSec

Jim Sciutto @jimsciutto
It’s official: @PressSec now says WH does not claim Trump’s inaugural crowd was largest ever

Marathon White House briefing. #penance #reboot

Jon Ralston @RalstonReports
All press secretaries evade and spin. By standards set through the years, Spicer is doing very well, I’d say. And calling on a lot of folks.

Mike Memoli @mikememoli
.@PressSec can’t leave without taking a question from Goyal

.@jaketapper: “Let’s hope that this @seanspicer stays with us.”

.@GloriaBorger: “We got some serious information out of Sean today.”

Why so quick to praise after the offenses of Saturday’s press statement, and during a still-dodgy Monday effort? (Spicer claimed during this Monday press conference an entitlement that ‘sometimes we can disagree with the facts,’ suggesting that either he’s still cynical over facts or, at a minimum, too inarticulate to say that sometimes we can disagree over which claims are facts.’ Either way, that’s a poor performance, not a ‘solid, professional job’).

It’s possible that Tumulty’s not up to the task, or that she’s been given the task of obsequious reporter so that her newspaper can soften the blow from other colleagues’ serious questions. (Even this second option doesn’t offer much for Tumulty: it’s like arguing that she’s supposed to be bad, or that she’s so bad she’s good.)

No, Karen Tumulty offers no worthy path forward; it’s Margaret Sullivan who has the sound approach to Trump, his administration, and surrogates.

Wes Benedict Tries & Fails Again

I’ve been critical of Wes Benedict, executive director of the national Libertarian Party (1 and 2), but I’ll say this for him: he’s an unfailing failure. In an email he sent today, Benedict wrote to party members, in part, that

We are all waiting to see what our new president does. No doubt he’ll do a few things Libertarians like. No doubt he’ll do other things we strongly dislike.

Benedict writes to members of his party as a proper noun (Libertarians rather than libertarians) and as though there hadn’t been a campaign, inauguration, protests, etc.: ‘we are all waiting to see what our new president does.’

Oh, brother. Those of us who love liberty have already seen, for month after month, what Trump does: he lies, foments racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry, and advocates violence against domestic opponents. He’s a combination of mediocrity, bigot, and liar.

Gessen’s right about opposing Trump’s authoritarianism: it is to be met each day with an increasingly formidable response. We’ll learn as we go, matching him more effectively with each month.

Benedict is free to wait so long as he wishes, and so are the members of his party. Genuine, committed libertarians (including from families within that movement long before Benedict was born) have no reason to delay: we’ve more than enough evidence, from Trump and his inner circle, to justify committed opposition.

Trump Will Force Choices the Local Press is Too Weak to Make

A sound critique of the national print press says that it has a limited time left. See, concerning the work of Clay Shirky, A Prediction of Print’s ‘Fast, Slow, Fast’ Decline. Market forces will also take their toll on the local print press, and even now local papers are useful only for The Last Inside Accounts (rather than inquisitive reporting).

(I’ll share a funny story from a local school board meeting touching on this topic. Some months ago, during a discussion of points the district wanted to make sure were in print, a school board member saw a local stringer in the audience, and called out to him, ‘did you get that?’ Locally, whether in print or online, most local publishing is publishing-as-stenography. Significantly, local reporting in this area is access journalism, designed to give officeholders an unquestioned say in exchange for an interview.)

The national press will not be able to carry on this way, to the extent they did, as Trump is an existential threat to the free exercise of their work. Margaret Sullivan’s right: The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead. And Trump’s press secretary killed it. (Credit where credit is due: Trump, himself, made access journalism unsound in a free society before Sean Spicer ever took the podium.)

It’s possible – one hopes – that through digital publications the national press will find new life in a battle for solid reporting in opposition to an authoritarian administration. (I subscribe to quite a few solid digital publications, and am always on the hunt for more. One can and should criticize weak publications and while firmly supporting inquisitive ones.)

But there’s a local angle in all this: the local press is weak & dysfunctional, living in fear of both dissatisfied advertisers and aging, give-me-happy-news readers. They’re to timid to take a firm stand on Trump, for or against.

On the biggest national (and international) story of our time, the local press is too timid to say much at all. It’s head down, eyes averted, for them.

That makes their work this year even less significant than it was last year. They were already stumbling about, but Trump’s rise demands someone who can walk, determinedly, in a particular direction. They can’t do that.

Trump didn’t set out to make the local press even less significant, of course, and yet, he’s done just that. Those who’ve bet on hyper-local have made a bad bet. (Local affairs through application of national standards was always a more sound approach.) Trump divides all America in ways that force stark choices, and an anemic local press lacks the vigor, let alone the courage, to address the fundamental topics of our time.