One Very Bad Day

Everyone has a bad day now and then – spill that mug of hot coffee on the morning paper – try to head off to work but the car won’t start – dead battery – or the car isn’t there. Sometimes nothing goes right, usually on a Monday. Everything turns sour – but that Monday thing is a myth. Any day can be a bad day. Thursday can be a bad day. Donald Trump had a very bad Thursday:

Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official.

But the congressional official said investigators were unwilling to broker a deal with Mr. Flynn – who resigned last month for misleading White House officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States – until they are further along in their inquiries and they better understand what information Mr. Flynn might offer as part of a deal.

He’s asking. They’re not ready for him yet, but they will be, and he’s certainly ready:

In a statement on Thursday evening, Mr. Flynn’s lawyer confirmed discussions with the House and Senate intelligence committees about possible testimony by his client. The lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not provide specifics about the terms under which Mr. Flynn would testify, but said that “no reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit,” the statement said.

That was a tease. Donald Trump should be worried about this amazing story that Flynn has to tell, even if no one knows what that story is – yet. It’s easy enough to guess. Trump fired the guy. This seems like revenge. This will involve Trump and Russia – or it won’t. Maybe it’s that Donald Trump drowns kittens to amuse himself – but probably not. Trump knows what Flynn knows. This cannot be good.

Flynn’s lawyer also made the same offer to the FBI but that complicates things:

The FBI is investigating whether any of President Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government in its efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. An immunity deal would make it extraordinarily difficult for the Justice Department to prosecute Mr. Flynn.

An immunity deal with Congress only screws up things with the FBI – that neuters them. Those guys are a bit stingy with immunity deals. Break the law. Go to jail. Congress has other priorities. They just want to know what the hell happened. They don’t do punishment. They’ll have to work things out with the FBI:

It is unclear whether any of Mr. Trump’s other former advisers have asked for immunity from the congressional committees.

It is common for witnesses to demand immunity in exchange for their testimony to ensure that their words cannot be used to prosecute them. Under federal law, Congress can grant witnesses immunity for their testimony, but lawmakers normally do so only after consulting with prosecutors.

Congress normally avoids doing anything that could disrupt a federal investigation. Federal law allows the Justice Department to delay a congressional immunity deal but not block it outright.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Thursday evening.

They can delay a congressional immunity deal but not block it outright. They’re thinking about which way to go with this, and saying nothing yet, and of course the White House isn’t saying a damned thing. They’re worried. This guy took the Russia thing just one step too far:

Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest advisers on national security issues during the presidential campaign. He drew attention for his strident attacks against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as for his advocacy of forging closer ties to the Russian government.

He has long argued that the United States and Russia have many common interests, including combating terrorism, and in December 2015 he attended a gala in Moscow during which he sat next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

But it was his contacts with Russian officials that ultimately led to his short tenure as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Specifically, Mr. Flynn had several phone conversations late last year with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. In one of the calls, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in response to the Russian government’s efforts to disrupt the presidential election.

Mr. Flynn misled some White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the substance of the phone calls, saying that he and the ambassador had only exchanged holiday pleasantries.

He resigned from the job in mid-February, saying in a statement that he had given the vice president and others “incomplete information” about the conversations with Mr. Kislyak.

It seems that his heart was in the right place, about Russia, but Flynn was just too enthusiastic about these things – and now he’s not going to take the fall for Trump’s similar enthusiasm, which might involve working with the Russian government to mess things up so badly for Hillary Clinton that she was sure to lose. Some might call that treason, or close enough, and Josh Marshall neatly sums up the situation:

You only get immunity if you deliver someone else higher up the ladder. And there’s only one person higher up the ladder.

And Flynn might need immunity:

Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign as national security adviser amid controversy over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador, collected nearly $68,000 in fees and expenses from Russia-related entities in 2015, a higher amount than was previously known, according to newly released documents.

The records show that the bulk of the money, more than $45,000, came from the Russian government-backed television network RT, in connection to a December 2015 trip Flynn took to Moscow. Flynn has acknowledged that RT sponsored his trip, during which he attended a gala celebrating the network’s 10th anniversary and was seated near Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And there’s more:

The newly released documents show that Flynn was also paid $11,250 that year by the U.S. subsidiary of a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, and another $11,250 by a U.S. air cargo company affiliated with the Volga-Dnepr Group, which is owned by a Russian businessman. The cyberfirm and the airline said the payments were made for speeches Flynn delivered in Washington.

And there’s more:

This month, Flynn filed paperwork indicating that he had been a foreign agent during the months when he was a top adviser to Trump’s campaign. Flynn’s company was hired by a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman to do work related to Turkish government interests.

So he was paid by the Russians, and then he was simultaneously paid by the Turkish government and by Donald Trump. Trump wasn’t paying attention. If he were, he would have known about that television network:

The U.S. government has said RT, which receives Kremlin funding, is part of a network of propaganda outlets that help popularize a pro-Russian perspective on the news and has issued warning about the network dating to before Flynn entered the private sector. In January, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that RT propaganda played a role in Russia’s effort to influence the U.S. presidential election and help Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In an August interview with the Washington Post, Flynn dismissed concerns about the news network’s Kremlin ties, comparing the network to independent U.S. outlets. “What’s CNN? What’s MSNBC? Come on!” he said.

That’s not the view of the intelligence community. Flynn had previously been fired by our intelligence community for being both an asshole and a bit of a maniac. Trump must have liked his swagger, but as a general rule, it’s not wise to fire someone with swagger. They can turn on you.

There are precedents here. There’s John Dean – he was granted immunity by Congress to testify on that whole Watergate mess. He detailed what he and Nixon and the others had been doing, and Nixon resigned. Dean spent four months in jail on a minor related matter. All the nasty stuff he had done for and with Nixon was forgiven.

Then there was John Poindexter – like Flynn, Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor. Poindexter set up that whole Iran-Contra thing. He was granted immunity by Congress to explain that, and he did. They had kept Reagan out of the loop. Reagan knew nothing. Reagan was safe – but Congress hadn’t coordinated with the Justice Department. Poindexter was convicted of multiple felonies as a result of the illegal stuff he had done in that Iran–Contra affair, but then his convictions were reversed on appeal. It wasn’t fair. He had thought he had immunity. He wouldn’t have said what he did if he hadn’t thought that. The ACLU defended him.

And then there’s Oliver North – the guy that did all the grunt work for Poindexter back then. He too was convicted of multiple felonies, but his convictions were vacated after an appeals court found that witnesses in his trial “might have been impermissibly affected by his immunized congressional testimony” – which is odd. There were rules. Some of what he said could bite him in the ass. Some couldn’t. Which was which? No one told the jury. Perhaps no one really knew – and now Oliver North is an occasional star on Fox News. Michael Flynn might end up there.

No one knows where Trump will end up, but he was having a bad Thursday:

A pair of White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

The revelation on Thursday that White House officials disclosed the reports, which Mr. Nunes then discussed with Mr. Trump, is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.

This was an embarrassment. They fed their stooge what was supposed to be blockbuster news. Obama had wiretapped Trump, but there wasn’t much there, and no one was supposed to know that the White House itself had fed this “news” to this “independent” guy in the House. This was Tom Clancy stuff as farce:

It is the latest twist of a bizarre Washington drama that began after dark on March 21, when Mr. Nunes got a call from a person he has described only as a source. The call came as he was riding across town in an Uber car, and he quickly diverted to the White House. The next day, Mr. Nunes gave a hastily arranged news conference before going to brief Mr. Trump on what he had learned the night before from – as it turns out – White House officials.

The whole story blew up:

Since disclosing the existence of the intelligence reports, Mr. Nunes has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe going to the committee with sensitive information. In his public comments, he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.

That does not appear to be the case. Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’ committee. Though neither has been accused of breaking any laws, they do appear to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration.

And there’s this:

Mr. Cohen-Watnick, 30, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who served on the Trump transition team and was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

He was nearly pushed out of his job this month by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who replaced Mr. Flynn as national security adviser, but survived after the intervention of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.

Damn – there’s Flynn again. His guy was defying McMaster:

The officials who detailed the newly disclosed White House role said that this month, shortly after Mr. Trump claimed on Twitter that he was wiretapped during the campaign on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.

There were conflicting accounts of what prompted Mr. Cohen-Watnick to dig into the intelligence. One official with direct knowledge of the events said Mr. Cohen-Watnick began combing through intelligence reports this month in an effort to find evidence that would justify Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts about wiretapping.

McMaster might be thinking about walking away from these clowns at this point. He can’t choose his staff. They do stupid things behind his back. Then they get caught doing stupid things. Who needs this?

That’s McMaster’s problem, and this is Trump’s:

On Thursday, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he needed clarification on whether White House officials had pursued “a circuitous route” to feed Mr. Nunes the materials so he could then hand them to Mr. Trump.

“If that was designed to hide the origin of the materials, that raises profound questions about just what the White House is doing that need to be answered,” he said. He later said he accepted an invitation on Thursday to review the same materials that Mr. Nunes had seen.

Yet even before Thursday, the view among Democrats and even some Republicans was that Mr. Nunes was given access to the intelligence reports to divert attention from the investigations into Russian meddling, and to bolster Mr. Trump’s debunked claims of having been wiretapped.

Yep, even Republicans were piling on. Trump was having a bad day, and then there was this:

The chaotic situation prompted the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is running its own investigation, to bluntly state on Wednesday that their work had nothing to do with the House inquiry.

That was the third part of Trump’s bad day. Sarah Posner covers that:

Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is running its own probe, are beginning to treat this matter with the seriousness it demands – particularly since it is now becoming apparent that the House probe is devolving into absurdity.

Indeed, a Senate Intel Committee hearing today on Russian interference revealed some genuinely new – and stunning – information. It should worry Republicans just as much as Democrats – particularly the Republicans who continue to back Trump and Nunes.

Here’s the problem:

In a remarkable moment, one key witness, Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, bluntly informed Sen. Marco Rubio, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, that as one of Trump’s presidential primary opponents, Rubio “suffered from” Russian disinformation efforts. (Although Watts wasn’t specific about those efforts, later in the day Rubio charged that Russian hackers have conducted unsuccessful cyberattacks on his former presidential campaign staffers.)

According to Watts (who was backed up by other witnesses who testified), the Russians have been using “active measures,” which are built on propaganda tactics that date back to Soviet times, to spread disinformation, fear, confusion, and chaos in multiple democratic countries, including the United States.

These efforts include the use of visible Kremlin propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, to publish false news stories and conspiracy theories. Russian actors then deploy social media bots to spread these false stories far and wide. In the U.S., Watts said, the goal has been to provoke Trump into repeating them or retweeting them to his millions of followers.

These clever Russians were certain that the vengeful and gullible Trump would do their work for them, amplifying it, making him one of them:

In a moment that stunned the hearing room, Watts flatly stated that the president himself has become a cog in such Russian measures. When asked by Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, who appeared visibly dismayed, why, if Russians have long used these methods, they finally worked in this election cycle, Watts’ answer was extraordinary.

“I think this answer is very simple and is one no one is really saying in this room,” he said. Part of the reason, he went on, “is the commander in chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”

That seems obvious now:

To buttress the claim that Trump (unwittingly or not) aided Russian disinformation efforts, Watts cited several instances. Among them: Trump’s citation of an apparently false Sputnik story at an October 2016 campaign appearance; his ongoing denial before and after the campaign of U.S. intelligence of Russian interference in the election; his claims of voter fraud and election rigging, which Watts said was pushed by RT and Sputnik; and Trump’s questioning of the citizenship of former President Barack Obama and even his primary rival Ted Cruz.

Watts added that one of the reasons such tactics are working is that Trump and/or his surrogates have repeated some of the claims, further spreading them through social media accounts that are owned both by real people and bots. Thus, the disinformation is kept alive and gradually becomes more real and plausible. “Part of the reason active measures work is because they parrot the same lines,” Watts said.

This is not good:

Republicans on the committee today seemed to be grappling with the enormity of what this could mean – and, crucially, that this threat should not be seen through a partisan prism. Rubio questioned Watts about a series of such false news stories and hoaxes, including claims that a thousand Muslims had burned down the oldest church in Germany while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” that migrants had raped a German girl, and that the European Union planned to ban snowmen as racist. (If you’ve ever spent time on alt-right social media, there’s a familiar ring to these stories: they are exactly the sort of thing that gets spread and recycled, and reverberate as supposed evidence of the nefariousness of say, Muslims, or the overreach of “political correctness.”)

Rubio seemed to suggest that he sees these tactics as intended to divide Americans from one another. “Aren’t we in the midst of a blitzkrieg, for lack of a better term, of informational warfare conducted by Russian trolls, under the command of Vladimir Putin,” Rubio asked, that is designed to divide Americans “politically, socioeconomically, demographically, and the like?” Watts confirmed that one of the aims of Russian active measures is to “play on ethnic divisions.”

Yes, but if so, there was Donald Trump saying that he personally saw thousands of Muslims dancing for joy in the streets of Jersey City as the two towers of the World Trade Center, just across the river, fell. Did he work out that story carefully with the Russians, so that they could achieve their ends and he could achieve his – which somehow seem to be pretty much the same? That seems unlikely. He wouldn’t work with the Russians to get elected. But he might have done just that.

Michael Flynn might know, but he’s not talking – yet. He will, however, probably be granted some sort of immunity. Then he’ll talk, and then Donald Trump will have a really bad day. That Monday thing is a myth. Any day of the week will do now.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to One Very Bad Day

  1. Rick says:

    Do you, as I do, get the feeling that every morning, every member of the Trump team gets out of bed, and while getting dressed, ties his shoelaces together?

    It seems that General Michael Flynn is offering to tell his “story”, in exchange for legal immunity from prosecution. Given that we seem to have handed our government over to a family of grifters, I wouldn’t jump to the same conclusion as the one outlined here:

    ”Donald Trump should be worried about this amazing story that Flynn has to tell, even if no one knows what that story is – yet. It’s easy enough to guess. Trump fired the guy. This seems like revenge. This will involve Trump and Russia – or it won’t. … Trump knows what Flynn knows. This cannot be good.”

    I’ve not gotten the impression that Flynn, since his departure from the Trump camp, is playing the part of the “disgruntled ex-employee”, out for “revenge”. In fact, I’ve gotten the impression that Flynn and Trump are still, as the saying goes, “as tight as thieves”.

    Frankly, I think I smell a rat.

    We need to keep in mind that, just within the past week, we’ve seen a third-rate scam, apparently staged by the gang in the White House, to “leak” information to the public that corroborates some fuzzy story that Donald Trump has been telling about being surveilled by the Obama administration, a preposterous tale involving the “unmasking” of innocents that is so incomprehensible and convoluted, it barely serves its (I think) intended purpose as a diversion from the actual issue of investigating Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections.

    How is it, you may be asking, that this gang of rodeo clowns has been able to change the subject, from a serious probe of Russia’s attack on our country, to “incidental” surveillance of innocent persons whose identity was somehow “unmasked”, something that has absolutely nothing to do with Russia?

    I’m wagering that it has something to do with the low expectations of those whom the Trumpsters have been able to cajole over to the dark side. The point is, whatever they may think of Donald Trump, the Republicans largely share a conservative agenda with him, and know that their choice is either to (1) back him up on his bullshit scams, or (2) side with the dreaded Democrats and their liberal agenda. It’s as simple as that.

    So what story does Flynn have to tell those committees?

    I don’t know the details, but I’m pretty sure it’s one that reflects well on Donald Trump, and also furthers the diversion of attention away from Russia (an area of discussion that can only hurt Flynn), and toward whatever case Trump is trying to make about Obama spying on him. I would not be surprised to learn at some point that whoever at the White House arranged for Nunes to stage his stunt is also behind Flynn volunteering to “tell all”.

    And by the way, how has President Trump been doing so far? I hear it’s not so hot, especially when it comes to keeping his campaign promises. But fortunately, nobody is really paying too much attention, which is fine, because all that stuff is really boring anyway.

    Any chance this presidency is just a continuation of the campaign itself, with all those outrageous tweets and contretemps in the headlines on a daily basis to divert our attention from the fact that Trump had nothing especially worthwhile to say?

    But what happens if Trump’s success rate continues on this same path, and he runs out of diversions?

    If that happens, and if I were Barrack Obama, I’d think about moving to Canada.

    Rick

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