There’s a reason that once you get past the odd childproof cap on your little bottle of Tylenol there’s that foil safety seal to get through, even if you are in pain. In 1982 someone was slipping cyanide into a few of the capsules. Three people in Chicago died, and then a few others. Johnson and Johnson had to do something, and they did that, and now everyone does that. The clever cap and the safety seal were expensive but that made them the good guys, and then the leader in consumer safety. The initial cost, in millions of dollars, was worth it, and now they sell tons of that stuff. In business schools they use this as a case study in effective crisis management, and now there are consulting firms that specialize in nothing but crisis management.
Those consultants are necessary. Two years ago the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain didn’t seem to use them – their “fresh” ingredients made a lot of people sick, and promising to do better and a few freebies impressed no one. They’re still recovering, and then there’s Ralph Nader. The Ford Pinto, with the gas tank just behind the rear bumper, is long gone. The cars exploded. Ford gave up, and Chevrolet redesigned their original Corvair, which tended to swap ends on slick roads, but no one would buy the new one, which didn’t. They didn’t explain things well enough. Ralph had. The key to effective crisis management is demonstrating, without question, that you’re the good guy here – perhaps sorry for your mistakes but more than willing to fix things at any cost. Be humble, but be aggressive. You’re the good guy. You always were.
Donald Trump should know such things. They teach crisis management at Warton. He went there, but he only seemed to have picked up the aggressive part of effective crisis management, not the humble part. He fired his rabidly aggressive national security advisor, Mike Flynn, when the CIA and FBI and all the rest leaked to the press that this guy had lied about how close he was to the Russians and they could easily blackmail him. They had the goods on the guy.
That’s a crisis, but Trump seems to have sat on the information for three weeks, and still says Flynn did nothing wrong, really. But he let him go. But it wasn’t the Russia thing. It was lying to the vice president and the chief of staff and the press secretary about his chats with the Russians. They went out and said that Flynn never talked to the Russians about Obama’s sanctions for messing with our election, and he never hinted to them that those would be lifted soon enough. He had. Pence and Priebus and Spencer were hung out to dry – so Trump cut Flynn lose, not that what he had done was wrong. It was the lies. He screwed those three guys. It was a matter of trust.
And that solved the problem, but it didn’t, because the problem wasn’t Flynn. Trump misunderstood the crisis, which Josh Marshall summarizes nicely:
The role of Russia in the 2016 election and the President’s relationship to Russia has been the un-ignorable question hanging over President Trump for months. Flynn’s resignation does not come close to resolving it. It is highly likely that the Flynn/Russia channel was authorized by the President himself. There’s much more to come.
That came the next day in one more blockbuster story from the New York Times:
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
Four independent sources saying the same thing isn’t fake news, and this wasn’t good news:
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.
But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.
This wasn’t fire, but the smoke was thick, and there were specifics:
The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls…
Mr. Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts of the American officials in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “This is absurd,” he said. “I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”
Mr. Manafort added, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.'”
To borrow a term from the Watergate era, that’s a non-denial denial, and it wasn’t just Manafort:
Two days after the election in November, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said that “there were contacts” during the campaign between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s team.
“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Mr. Ryabkov said in an interview with the Russian Interfax news agency.
The Trump transition team denied Mr. Ryabkov’s statement. “This is not accurate,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said at the time.
Now, forget that:
The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the communications between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the FBI asked the NSA to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.
The FBI has closely examined at least three other people close to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear if their calls were intercepted. They are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative; and Mr. Flynn.
All of the men have strongly denied they had any improper contacts with Russian officials.
Fine, but now they don’t deny the contacts. You’ll just have to trust them on the propriety of all those conversations. And your Pinto won’t explode.
This is not effective crisis management, and Kevin Drum adds this:
If Trump thought that firing Michael Flynn was going to stop the recent bloodletting, he thought wrong.
Just to make this clear: At the same time that Russian intelligence was hacking various email accounts in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton, multiple members of the Trump team had repeated phone calls with senior Russian intelligence officials. And during this entire time, Trump himself was endorsing a foreign policy that appeared almost as if it had been dictated to him by Vladimir Putin.
As a number of people have pointed out, the American intelligence community has all but declared war on Trump since his inauguration. I hardly need to spell out why this is dangerous. At the same time, it’s sure becoming a lot clearer why they’re so alarmed by the guy.
Drum adds only one other detail:
FBI Director James Comey, who knew all about this, pushed hard not to make it public during the campaign. Instead he considered it more important to inform Congress that he had discovered additional copies of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
And then he said that was a false alarm – sorry about that – and Clinton was history a few days later.
This was a mess, but messes can be cleaned up, and the Washington post covers how Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, was sent out to do just that:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that it was “highly likely” that the events leading to Flynn’s departure would be added to a broader probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. … McConnell’s comments followed White House revelations that Trump was aware “for weeks” that Flynn had misled Vice President Pence and others about the content of his late-December talks with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“We’ve been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth,” Spicer said at the daily White House press briefing. He emphasized that an internal White House inquiry had concluded that nothing Flynn discussed with the Russian was illegal but that he had “broken trust” with Trump by not telling the truth about the talks.
When asked whether Trump told Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, Spicer responded: “No, absolutely not.”
Asked why Trump had waited nearly three weeks to act after what Spicer called a “heads-up” from the Justice Department, he said that once the question of legality was settled, “then it became a phase of determining whether or not [Flynn’s] action on this and a whole host of other issues undermined” Trump’s trust. He declined to specify the “other issues.”
That doesn’t clarify much, and there’s this:
In an interview conducted early Monday and published Tuesday by the Daily Caller, Flynn said that he did not specifically discuss sanctions with Kislyak but rather President Barack Obama’s simultaneous expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. He said he told the ambassador that “we’ll review everything” following Trump’s inauguration.
Current and former U.S. officials have said, however, that much of the conversation was about sanctions and that Flynn suggested that Moscow not respond in kind to the expulsions – advice that Russian President Vladimir Putin took in declining to take retaliatory action.
Putin took his advice, or Trump’s advice, if Trump had told Flynn what he wanted Putin to do, and there’s this:
Although Trump has not publicly mentioned his view of the sanctions, Spicer said that the president “has made it very clear he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea,” even as he hopes to cooperate with Putin on terrorism.
That’s new. During the campaign Trump had said that he understood that the people of Crimea really wanted to be part of Russia – as the Russians had been saying – and that the Russians had never invaded eastern Ukraine at all. He finally did concede they had, reluctantly. Now he’s saying they should stop that nonsense, and get out of Crimea too. Perhaps that’s crisis management. He’s been on the side of Russia far too long.
That’s curious. Perhaps he owes them. His sons did brag about all the Russian money that had financed his amazing projects over all the years. A look at his tax returns would clear that up, but there he has someone else doing the crisis management:
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said that he will not order the Treasury Department to provide President Donald Trump’s tax returns to his committee.
“If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the President, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans? Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country and the Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them.”
That’s taking the high road:
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) called on Brady earlier in February to order the Treasury Department to provide 10 years of Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.
“I believe the powerful Ways and Means Committee has the responsibility to use that power to ensure proper oversight of the executive branch by requesting a review of President Trump’s tax returns,” Pascrell wrote.
Brady said in his statement that he disagrees with “all of” Pascrell’s argument.
“I’ve read his letter and I disagree with all of it,” Brady wrote. “That letter misrepresents the legislative intent of that provision, which in fact creates confidentiality and privacy for Americans in their tax returns.”
So now we’ll never know – effective crisis management at work – and there’s this:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Tuesday that he didn’t think it would be “useful” to investigate conversations between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian ambassador that led to Flynn’s resignation.
“I think that might be excessive,” Paul said in an interview with “Kilmeade and Friends” first surfaced by CNN’s KFILE.
Paul said that Republicans will “never even get started” with major policy changes like repealing Obamacare if they are focused on investigating their colleagues.
“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense,” Paul said.
He said that President Donald Trump has apparently “handled the situation…”
That’s an odd sort of crisis management – Obamacare is the real crisis – change the topic.
Josh Marshall suggests we don’t:
We have before us a question that has stood before us, center stage, for something like a year, brazen and shameless and yet too baffling and incredible to believe: Donald Trump’s bizarre and unexplained relationship with Russia and its strongman Vladimir Putin.
It is almost beyond imagining that a National Security Advisor could be forced to resign amidst a counter-intelligence investigation into his communications and ties to a foreign adversary. The National Security Advisor is unique in the national security apparatus. He or she is the organizer, synthesizer and conduit to the President for information from all the various agencies and departments with a role in national security. This person must be able to know everything. The power and trust accorded this person are immeasurable. It is only really comparable to the President. And yet, we are talking about the President. A staffer or appointee can be dismissed. The President is the ultimate constitutional officer.
And that’s the problem:
All the claims about Trump and Russia rely on suppositions which are unproven and hard evidence we don’t have. But the circumstantial evidence, the unexplained actions, the unheard of spectacle of a foreign power subverting a US election while the beneficiary of the interference aggressively and openly makes the case for the culprit, the refusal to make even the most elementary forms of disclosure which could clarify the President’s financial ties – they are so multifaceted and abundant it is almost impossible to believe they are mere random and chance occurrences with no real set of connections behind them.
Step back for a second and look at this. While certainties are hard to come by, it seems clear that Russia broke into computer networks and selectively released private emails to damage Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. When President Obama took a series of actions to punish the Russian government for this interference, President-Elect Trump’s top foreign policy advisor made a series of calls to the Russian government’s representative in the United States to ask him to have his government refrain from retaliation and suggested that the punishments could be lifted once the new government was sworn in. Then he lied about the calls both publicly and apparently within the White House. What has gotten lost in this discussion is that these questionable calls were aimed at blunting the punishment meted out for the election interference that helped Donald Trump become President. This is mind-boggling.
And there’s this:
Through the course of the campaign, transition and presidency, three top Trump advisors and staffers have had to resign because of issues tied to Russia – Paul Manafort, Carter Page and now Michael Flynn. Page might arguably be termed a secondary figure. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign and Flynn was his top foreign policy advisor for a year. The one common denominator between all these events, all these men is one person: Donald Trump…
This has all been happening before our eyes, the train of inexplicable actions, the unaccountable ties and monetary connections, the willful, almost inexplicable need to make the case for Vladimir Putin even when the President knows the suspicion he’s under. When I was writing my first post on this topic more than six months ago, I had the uncanny feeling of finding what I was writing impossible to believe as I wrote it. And yet, I would go through the list of unexplained occurrences and actions, clear business and political connections, sycophantic support and more and realize there was too much evidence to ignore. It was fantastical and yet in plain sight.
That’s where we still are. There is a huge amount we don’t know. We don’t know the big answers. But to use the language of the criminal law, there’s probable cause to have a real investigation. Not a rush to judgment, but an investigation.
That would be nice, but it’s more than that:
There is so much smoke that you could choke on it. It’s time to find out what Donald Trump’s relationship is to Russia, his and his associates’ contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, whatever business ties there might be. If you were Vladimir Putin you could not have done more to help the cause of Donald Trump. And if you were Trump, you could not have done more in actions and statements to repay the favor. The only question is whether the trajectory of perfectly interlocked actions was simply chance or tacit.
And meanwhile on CNN:
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) said Tuesday that it would be “the definition of treason” if members of President Donald Trump’s administration are “conspiring with Russia.”
“If members of the administration are essentially conspiring with Russia either through the campaign earlier or now in the administration itself, I mean, look, Wolf, that’s the definition of treason,” Moulton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“Let me just be precise on this. You’re throwing out a huge word, treason. Explain exactly what your concern is,” Blitzer said.
“The definition of treason is putting the interests of our enemy ahead of our own,” Moulton replied. “It seems like there’s a lot of evidence that there are members of the administration who are more concerned about Russia’s goals than our own.”
There will be more of that. That’s the crisis that Trump must manage, the cyanide in the Tylenol capsule, although Eli Lake is now talking about The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn:
It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government.
Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals…
Representative Devin Nunes [the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee] told me Monday night that this will not end well. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.
The hidden shadow government, the “national security state” that has nothing to do with the people, or democracy, is taking over. It’s a military/intelligence coup. It’s the end of America. Wake up, people!
Two weeks earlier it was Paul Sperry in the New York Post:
When former President Barack Obama said he was “heartened” by anti-Trump protests, he was sending a message of approval to his troops. Troops? Yes, Obama has an army of agitators – numbering more than 30,000 – who will fight his Republican successor at every turn of his historic presidency. And Obama will command them from a bunker less than two miles from the White House.
In what’s shaping up to be a highly unusual post-presidency, Obama isn’t just staying behind in Washington. He’s working behind the scenes to set up what will effectively be a shadow government to not only protect his threatened legacy, but to sabotage the incoming administration and its popular “America First” agenda.
He’s doing it through a network of leftist nonprofits led by Organizing for Action. Normally you’d expect an organization set up to support a politician and his agenda to close up shop after that candidate leaves office, but not Obama’s OFA. Rather, it’s gearing up for battle, with a growing war chest and more than 250 offices across the country…
Far from sulking, OFA activists helped organize anti-Trump marches across US cities, some of which turned into riots. After Trump issued a temporary ban on immigration from seven terror-prone Muslim nations, the demonstrators jammed airports, chanting: “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!”
Yes, wake up:
Obama will be overseeing it all from a shadow White House located within two miles of Trump. It features a mansion, which he’s fortifying with construction of a tall brick perimeter, and a nearby taxpayer-funded office with his own chief of staff and press secretary. Michelle Obama will also open an office there, along with the Obama Foundation.
That’s another odd sort of crisis management – forget Trump and Russia – Obama is plotting a coup.
Of course the best form of crisis management is to be bold, even if you can’t be humble. Trump could come out and just say that yes, he did make a deal with Putin and the Russian intelligence services. They get him elected and he gives them Ukraine and Crimea and perhaps the Baltic States. He could say he makes deals, and he always wins, and he is president. He won big. We should be in awe of him. This was a masterpiece.
That could happen. The key to effective crisis management is demonstrating, without question, that you’re the good guy, and everyone loves a winner. Then we all take a lot of Tylenol.