It was another freaky Friday. No, not the 2003 movie where Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis are the daughter and mother whose bodies somehow get switched, which seems to have something to do with a mysterious fortune cookie – a remake of the 1976 version where Jodie Foster was the daughter. Both films were rather stupid, but there’s obviously a market for such things. Suddenly, no one is who they’re supposed to be. That can be played for laughs. That can make money, again and again, but were such a thing to happen in real life no one would be laughing. People are hardwired to expect the expected. Things should be as they’re supposed to be. Sudden reversals upset people. Too much of that can leave people bewildered and weeping.
That may be why the election of Donald Trump has left so many people bewildered and weeping – even many Republicans. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This vulgar and vindictive man, who knows nothing about government or even about the larger world, is going to be the face of their party? They’re making the best of that. They’re making a lot of excuses for each batshit-crazy tweet he sends out hour after hour.
They can live with that. They do have the House and Senate now. After the obligatory repeal of Obamacare, they can get rid of Medicare next, and then Social Security – and maybe Trump won’t notice. Trump had said, over and over, that as president, he would never cut either of those – not one tiny bit. He’d expand them – but he says lots of things and changes his mind all time. If congressional Republicans work out a way to pull that off, getting rid of both, he’ll probably just shrug. They know him. He’ll be tweeting again about how Saturday Night Live just isn’t funny, and how it’s just unfair and should be taken off the air, right now. He’ll be preoccupied by that. He’ll sign anything they send to his desk. Think of that governor in Blazing Saddles. They’ll be Harvey Korman. He’ll be Mel Brooks. It’s like that.
The unexpected can be contained. They can use him, but still, the reversals are a problem, and this was a freaky Friday:
Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former New York mayor and an early backer of Donald Trump, has withdrawn his name for consideration for a Trump administration job. Giuliani was on the president-elect’s shortlist for secretary of state.
In a statement, the Trump transition team said Giuliani informed Trump of his withdrawal at a Nov. 29 meeting. Giuliani delivered a letter to Trump, who declined to accept it at that meeting. On Friday, Giuliani again asked Trump to withdraw his name, and he accepted, according to a senior transition official.
Giuliani said in a statement that the decision was “not about me.”
No one believed that. Giuliani has a giant ego – he told everyone he wanted the job and was going to get the job. He was an insider, with Trump from the beginning. He was special. And he also goes off on odd rants, working himself into a fury, finally lapsing into near incoherency, and his staff, and the Trump staff, often had to clean up after him. But in the Trump world there’s only room for one of that sort of person. Giuliani pushed too hard. He stole Trump’s thunder, or tried to. He had to go. The same thing happened with Chris Christie. Both had to be humiliated. It’s an alpha-male dominance thing.
That was the chatter all day. Neither side offered any other explanation, but this was a shock, a reversal. Trump’s surrogates had been all over saying that Giuliani was still in the mix up to the moment of the announcement, but this had been in the works for weeks. They had a bit of explaining to do. They mumbled a lot. It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t funny, like role-reversals in that 2003 Disney movie.
That left this:
The drawn-out search for a secretary of state has left two names near the top of the list: former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson.
Both men are valued by Trump for their experience in deal-making around the world in their capacities as business executives. But Romney has faced a public revolt from Trump loyalists who believed that his comments during the campaign denouncing Trump went too far.
Romney won’t be humiliated. He’d do the job if asked – he’s big on public service, a good and noble thing – but he’s not going to kiss Trump’s ass. He seems to believe in governance, not tantrums, so that leaves Rex Tillerson. He’s Putin’s man:
Friends and associates said few U.S. citizens are closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin than Mr. Tillerson, who has known Mr. Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.
“He has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary during the Clinton administration and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank where Mr. Tillerson is a board member.
In 2011, Mr. Tillerson struck a deal giving Exxon access to prized Arctic resources in Russia as well as allowing Russia’s state oil company, OAO Rosneft, to invest in Exxon concessions all over the world. The following year, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.
Wow – the Order of Friendship – anyone can see why Trump likes this guy. Trump has repeatedly said how much he is impressed with Putin’s strong leadership. Unlike Obama, this is a man who knows how to get things done. He’s Trump’s kind of guy. Trump has also floated the idea that we should align ourselves with Russia and Syria, to fight ISIS and to do maybe more, although Trump has not yet said we should join Russia in bombing the schools and hospitals in Aleppo for Assad. Mitt Romney had said, and keeps saying, that Russia is the biggest threat we face right now. Rex wouldn’t say that.
That clinches it. Tillerson gets the job, but the problem is that the multibillion dollar deal that Tillerson struck with Putin was suspended – put in limbo – when Russia grabbed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine. We imposed sanctions on Russia, mainly hitting the rich oil guys there. The rest of NATO did the same. One does not invade and absorb other sovereign nations. That’s a Hitler thing. No good comes of it, so Putin and Tillerson got skunked.
Both may still be angry about that, but Putin would love to have Tillerson as our secretary of state. He’d lift the sanctions. He’d let Putin take the rest of the Ukraine, and perhaps the Baltic States if Putin still wants them, and Exxon Mobile would then be able to make the billions in profits that Obama denied them. The deal would be on again. Everyone wins.
Actually, Putin wins. He finally has an American president who is firmly on his side, who seems to be about to nominate a secretary of state who’s an old friend and business partner. He can grab what he wants now, to recreate what used to be the old Soviet Union as the New Russia. That’s finally possible. He captured the American government. He may think Trump is a fool, but he’s been what the KGB used to call a “useful idiot” in these matters. Putin is an old KGB guy after all.
Is that what just happened? People are beginning to wonder. Ben Mathis-Lilley covers that:
One of the more vexing problems Democrats and other Trump critics face is the question of how to actually, like, actually do anything about anything at all, given that Republicans who appear ready to roll over and let the president-elect get away with pretty much whatever he wants run both chambers of Congress. Per recent news, though, two of the formal governmental mechanisms that do remain outside Trump and Trump apologists’ control will be used in coming months to investigate the ways in which Russian email hacking and other sabotage may have contributed to his victory.
Trump can’t control this:
President Obama, one of his top security advisers said Friday, is ordering the American intelligence community to conduct a “full review” of Russian electoral interference to be completed before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. The adviser – Lisa Monaco – said that the review will culminate in “a report to a range of stakeholders, including Congress,” though it’s not clear how much of said report will be made public.
Trump also can’t control this:
The Washington Post reports that Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham – who were both personally attacked by Trump during the presidential campaign – “are preparing to launch a coordinated and wide-ranging probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. elections and its potential cyberthreats to the military.” McCain says he will launch an investigation under the auspices of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which he is chairman, and notes to the Post that he considers the disruption of the election “a national security issue.” Graham, who is a member of that committee and the chairman on its subcommittee on crime and terrorism, told CNN that he will be “going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia.”
Obama, obviously, leaves office in slightly more than a month. But individual senators like John McCain will still retain considerable authority to conduct investigations and hold hearings that might make the executive branch and even GOP party leaders uncomfortable.
Trump, for his part, told Time in a story published this week that he is still not convinced Russia was involved in 2016 email hacking. “It could be Russia. And it could be China,” Trump told the magazine. “And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”:
Is that so? Aaron Blake explains how this screws Republicans:
Any GOP effort to dig into the matter risks antagonizing the president-elect, who has said flatly that he doesn’t believe Russia interfered with the election, despite receiving intelligence briefings to the contrary. And he’s proved more than willing to go after fellow Republicans who run afoul of him.
On the other hand, if Republicans play down the issue, they risk giving a pass to an antagonistic foreign power that significant majorities of Americans and members of Congress do not trust and which, if the evidence is accurate, wields significant power to wage successful cyberwarfare with the United States.
Already, House Democrats have begun pushing for something akin to the 9/11 Commission to look into allegations of Russian meddling. During the campaign, they pushed for hearings on the same issue.
Until this week, they’d been unable to get much buy-in from congressional Republicans.
Now they have two, and that’s a bigger problem:
For congressional Republicans, the evidence is increasingly getting to the point where they simply can’t ignore it, and some of them are feeling compelled to act – in a way that Trump isn’t likely to embrace.
Compounding the dilemma for these Republicans is that many GOP and Trump voters are disinclined to think Russia meddled in the election. A poll released Friday by Democratic pollster Democracy Corps showed 55 percent of Trump voters and Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump, say it’s probably true that stories alleging Russian interference in the election are conspiracy theories pushed by Clinton.
Many Republicans are undoubtedly concerned about this. But as long as Trump is holding fast to the idea that this is all made up in an effort to undermine him, this whole thing could reinforce the long-standing chasm within the GOP, with him and his base pitted against establishment Republicans who will (again) be made to look like they’re trying to take down their outsider president-elect. And you can bet that’ll be how Trump pitches it.
It all presents a possibly inauspicious start for the GOP Congress in the Trump era: a potential Trump vs. congressional-Republicans-battle over the same election that surprisingly installed him as president.
That’s not what they need, and they didn’t need the late-breaking Friday night news:
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.
What else could he say? The Washington Post had a scoop. Obama may have been ordering an assessment of what had happened, but that assessment had already been done, and they had the goods, and the Trump folks had nothing to say:
The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” the statement read.
That is not a denial of the facts at hand. That was just denial – move on, nothing to see here, folks – but the Post has the goods:
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
By mid-September, White House officials had decided it was time to take that step, but they worried that doing so unilaterally and without bipartisan congressional backing just weeks before the election would make Obama vulnerable to charges that he was using intelligence for political purposes.
Instead, officials devised a plan to seek bipartisan support from top lawmakers and set up a secret meeting with the Gang of 12 – a group that includes House and Senate leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers’ committees on intelligence and homeland security.
Obama dispatched Monaco, FBI Director James B. Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to make the pitch for a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against Russian interference in the election, according to a senior administration official.
They weren’t going to get that:
In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.
And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
In short, all the agencies did their work and it may be true that Russia got Trump elected, but perhaps all of them are wrong, but even if they’re right, I’ll say they’re wrong, and you’ll be sorry – so keep this quiet. Well, McConnell’s side won after all:
McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment. After the election, Trump chose McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, as his nominee for transportation secretary.
McConnell is no dummy, and the New York Times has more:
American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.
They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding – which they say was also reached with high confidence – that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.
That’s an interesting detail – the Republicans were hacked too – but Putin’s guys didn’t use any of what they found. Why would they? And the Republicans run a tight ship:
Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN in September that the RNC had been hacked by Russia, but then quickly withdrew the claim.
Mr. McCaul, who was considered by Mr. Trump for secretary of Homeland Security, initially told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “It’s important to note, Wolf, that they have not only hacked into the DNC but also into the RNC.” He added that “the Russians have basically hacked into both parties at the national level, and that gives us all concern about what their motivations are.”
Minutes later, the RNC issued a statement denying that it had been hacked. Mr. McCaul subsequently said that he had misspoken…
It all worked, and this changes everything. On Freaky Friday, Donald Trump is actually an unwitting tool of Vladimir Putin. No one is who they’re supposed to be, just like in that Disney movie, where that’s great fun.
Who knew? Josh Marshall answers that question:
This is a huge, huge deal. But it’s not a new huge deal.
We’ve known this for months. We knew it while the campaign was going on. The major new revelation is that the CIA believes Russia intervened in the US election not merely with the aim of disrupting or delegitimizing the electoral process but with the specific aim of electing Trump. But again, we already knew this. If Russian intelligence was behind the hacking of the DNC and Podesta emails, of course they were trying to elect Trump. The intelligence briefing Senators got back in September was not definitive on this point of intention. But to suggest otherwise is to believe you can intend to knock over the bottle but be agnostic on spilling the milk. Of course, they were trying to elect Trump…
It’s a big, big deal even if we can’t say definitively that Russian interference was the cause of Trump’s election, which we cannot. But the hacking campaign certainly had a major effect on the progress of election. There’s no question about that.
Okay – everybody knew. This is just confirmation of that, but it is a bit freaky. Trump keeps saying it’s time to make America great again. Vladimir Putin did what he could to help Trump do that? That seems unlikely. No one is who they’re supposed to be, but this time that’s not all that funny. It’s only too late to do anything about it.