No one would know what to make of those Harry Potter movies if it weren’t for John Williams. It’s the music. His score – uplifting or ominous – lets the audience know what to feel at the moment. It was the same in the Indiana Jones movies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and all the Start Wars movies, and Jaws too. The shark is nothing without that pulsing and thumping music. Without Williams’ Imperial March Darth Vader would be a big goofball – he’d be a comic figure. But he has a theme – what used to be called a leitmotif – so everyone knows when the Empire is about to strike back. Williams’ score takes care of that. Listen to the music.
Donald Trump is listening to the music. Robert Mueller is closing in. There’s subtle news of that day after day. Donald Trump is hearing that Darth Vader theme, unless Mueller is that giant white shark from the Jaws movie – but Mueller is more like Darth Vader. The Empire is about to strike back, or the Deep State is. Fox News has been trying to show that the whole thing is a nefarious plot by a “secret society” within the FBI plotting a Deep State coup to remove Trump from power. Lou Dobbs was leading the charge on that, and then there was the Nunes memo.
That memo showed that the FISA approval to continue electronic tracking of Carter Page was entirely based on the now famous Steele dossier, which the Democrats eventually paid for, so that tracking never should have been approved – and no tracking of any Trump folks should have been approved, or should now be approved, because it’s all based on what the Democrats eventually paid for. The Democrats offered a memo that says no – there were many reasons Page was targeted. They can be listed. He had been targeted for years. There’s a ton of other stuff that pointed to Carter Page. That should be considered too – but the White House said that’s all classified. Remove it – all of it. Otherwise, shut up. Donald Trump won’t let the Empire – the Deep State – strike back. But the ominous pulsing and thumping music plays on.
The Nunes memo gives Trump an excuse to replace Rod Rosenstein, Robert Mueller’s supervisor, with a more pliant fellow. He is entitled to federal law enforcement run by personal loyalists. Any investigation of him is clear evidence of disqualifying bias – but now the country is less confident in the independence of the FBI and everyone else. They may be guilty of treason – all of them. One year ago, Donald Trump called the CIA a bunch of Nazis – they must have been the ones who leaked the Steele dossier. Don’t trust the CIA – and by the way, Vladimir Putin told Trump that the Russians did not meddle in our election. Putin told Trump that in Europe, and then later in Asia. Each time, Trump said he believed Putin, or saw no point in arguing with the guy – let it slide. The whole Russian thing is a hoax. He’ll stop this slow-rolling Deep State coup d’état one way or another.
That won’t be easy. Cue the Darth Vader theme. The Empire – the Deep State – just struck back:
The nation’s top intelligence chiefs were united Tuesday in declaring that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt the U.S. political system and is targeting the 2018 midterm elections, following its successful operation to sow discord in the most recent presidential campaign.
Their assessment stands in contrast to President Trump, who has repeatedly voiced skepticism of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The nation’s top intelligence chiefs, almost all appointed by Donald Trump, turned on him, and if that isn’t a slow-rolling Deep State coup d’état playing out, at least it’s insubordination, and that’s trouble:
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Democrats demanded to know what the intelligence community is doing to counter Russia’s actions and whether Trump has given explicit directions to do so.
“We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, without a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).
The disconnect between Trump and his senior-most intelligence advisers has raised concerns that the U.S. government will not be able to mount an effective plan to beat back Russian influence operations in the upcoming midterm elections. And Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said there is “no single agency in charge” of blocking Russian meddling, an admission that drew the ire of Democrats.
It seems that no one is in charge, for a reason:
The intelligence community’s consensus on Russia’s intentions led Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to press officials on whether Trump has directed them to take “specific actions to confront and to blunt” Russian interference activities.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the bureau is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter Russian meddling but was “not specifically directed by the president.” And Pompeo added that Trump “has made very clear we have an obligation” to make sure policymakers have a deep understanding of the Russia threat.
Coats also said the intelligence agencies “pass onto the policymakers, including the president,” relevant intelligence.
Reed pressed on his question: “Passing on relevant intelligence is not actively disrupting the operations of an opponent. Do you agree?”
Coats said, “We take all kinds of steps to disrupt Russian activities.”
Pompeo added: “Senator Reed, we have a significant effort. I’m happy to talk about it in closed session.”
A visibly frustrated Reed responded: “The simple question I’ve posed is, has the president directed the intelligence community in a coordinated effort, not merely to report but to actively stop this activity, and the answer seems to be that the reporting is going on, as reporting goes on about every threat going into the United States.”
Pompeo may have told Jack Reed – in closed session – the president may have never told any of them to do a damned thing about the Russians, but they’re doing quite specific stuff anyway, no matter what the president says. That’s dangerous, but Pompeo doesn’t want to piss off the president. The president is the problem. This president demands loyalty. Side with him, and with Vladimir Putin – and presumably with Russia’s KGB (their CIA) and Russia’s version of the FBI – or you’re a traitor, part of that slow-rolling Deep State coup d’état to overthrow the current duly elected and wildly popular heroic president. Which is it? Pompeo opted for a closed session. He’s no fool.
That may not help:
At the end of the hearing, Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said that the panel hoped to release publicly the findings of its Russia investigation “before the primaries begin” in March. Their probe includes a review of the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment on Russian interference, he said. That assessment concluded that the Russians wanted to help get Trump elected.
They are traitors, and Jennifer Rubin adds this:
Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, put the blame squarely on the president. “The president inconceivably continues to deny the threat posed by Russia. He didn’t increase sanctions on Russia when he had a chance to do so. He hasn’t even tweeted a single concern. This threat demands a whole-of-government response, and that needs to start with leadership at the top.”
Trump’s refusal to defend our elections – a blatant instance of disregarding his oath of office – comes in the face of multiple calls to secure our election machinery. Max Bergmann, the head the Moscow Project for the Center for American Progress, told me “our democracy was attacked in 2016, and the intelligence community just unanimously told us that the Russians plan to do it again in the 2018 elections. Yet the response from Trump and the Republican Congress is a collective shrug.” Bergmann added: “There have been no Cabinet meetings on Russian interference, no agency has been charged with leading a response, and no election security legislation. Worse, the administration amazingly turned lemonade into lemons with the new Russia sanctions legislation by not sanctioning anyone.” He concluded, “This is a deliberate policy of appeasement that is practically inviting future attacks on our democracy.”
This may be the deliberate policy, but it has the feel of something else. Trump may owe the Russians something. No one else would finance his real estate empire. There were all those secret meetings, before the election, about lifting sanctions. Trump needed debt-relief. The Kushner real estate business certainly needed debt-relief. Putin and his circle would be ruined by new sanctions. Forget about appeasement. This may be a simple business arrangement. Follow the money. Robert Mueller is looking into that. The ominous John Williams Darth Vader theme is still playing in the background.
Rubin also adds this:
“The Republic at Risk,” a joint project from Stand Up Ideas and Protect Democracy, warned that “guaranteeing the integrity of our elections, and ensuring that the American people have confidence in our electoral system, are paramount to repairing our political system.” The report recommended that the administration work to both prevent cyberattacks and provide “technical assistance for campaigns and parties, to harden security to prevent hacking.” Protect Democracy’s executive director Ian Bassin tells me, “Americans of all political backgrounds need to start asking why Trump believes Vladimir Putin but not Trump’s own hand-picked intelligence chief when it comes to what the Russians did and continue to do to wage war on our democracy.”
Americans are asking that, but not Republicans, so Rubin adds this:
The Republicans’ culpability in failing to move swiftly to protect our democratic machinery is stunning. At some point, their 2018 opponents will start asking: Why aren’t Republicans protecting American democracy against Russian aggression? The answer is that Trump’s ego seems to take precedence over the country’s defense – and congressional Republicans are too timid to force action.
Republicans may pay for that when the American Empire strikes back in the midterms. Not many Republicans will be running on a “God bless Russia for giving us Trump” platform. That notion is confined to the evangelical community at the moment. Putin hates abortions and gays too, so perhaps Russian flags will fly at every megachurch in Texas – or not. People may realize that the evil Deep State isn’t evil – it’s just sensible people who know how the world works.
That might be the question here:
Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, urged the intelligence officials to convince Trump that the issue of collusion was separate from election meddling.
“I understand the President’s sensitivity about whether his campaign was in connections with the Russians, and that’s a separate question. But there is no question – we’ve got before us the entire intelligence community, that the Russians interfered in the election in 2016 – they’re continuing to do it, and they’re a real imminent threat to our elections in a matter of eight or nine months,” King said.
“My problem is I talk to people in Maine who say the whole thing is a witch hunt and a hoax because ‘the President told me.'” he added.
That’s it? There is such a thing as reality, and the Deep State struck back with a bit more reality:
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that the bureau completed its background investigation of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter last year, contradicting the White House’s assertion that the FBI “process” was ongoing.
Wray told lawmakers at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that the FBI submitted a partial report to the White House in March on Porter, whose position involved access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets, and completed its scrub of the ex-aide’s background in late July.
Wray said the FBI completed a follow-up in November after one was requested and “administratively closed the file” in January. The FBI, he added, received additional information in February and passed that along, too. Wray did not specify the nature of any of the information it received about Porter.
“I’m quite confident that in this particular instance the FBI followed the established protocols,” Wray said.
Trump appointed this guy, who just betrayed him, so the spin began:
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that the clearance process was “handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community” and that it “hadn’t been completed” at the time of Porter’s departure last week.
“Look, this is a process that doesn’t operate within the White House,” Sanders said.
On Tuesday, Sanders changed her position, saying that it was the White House security office, not the FBI or other agencies, that had held up final resolution on Porter’s clearance status.
“The White House personnel security office, staffed by career officials, received information last year in what they considered to be the final background investigation report in November,” Sanders said. “But they had not made a final recommendation for adjudication to the White House because the process was still ongoing when Rob Porter resigned.”
Sanders said “both” she and Wray had been correct in their explanations because the White House’s personnel security office’s investigation had remained open even after the FBI’s had finished.
She looked uncomfortable – she has an awful job – but the White House should have expected this:
Tuesday’s hearing marked the second time in as many weeks that Wray, who previously served in the George W. Bush administration, has crossed the White House. The FBI issued a statement in January saying it had “grave concerns” about President Donald Trump’s intention to declassify a memo written by House Republicans concerning the agency’s investigation of claims surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.
It seems that the Deep State just keeps striking back:
At Tuesday’s hearing, director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that people with temporary security clearance should get only limited access to sensitive, classified information, calling the process “broken.” Coats did not mention any individuals.
“Sometimes it is necessary to have some type of preliminary clearance in order to fill a slot, but access has to be limited in terms of the kinds of information they can be in a position to receive or not receive,” Coats said. “It needs to be reformed.”
The implications were obvious. Until then, the thirty or so White House staffers with temporary security clearances should not be allowed to see what they have to see to do their work – but there’s no one else to do the work. Now what? Donald Trump appointed Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence. Coats turned on him. Coats must be part of the Deep State. Who knew?
Now add this:
After FBI Director Christopher Wray refuted the Trump administration official timeline on domestic abuse allegations against former White House staffer Rob Porter, an ex-CIA official lauded the bureau director’s statements during Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room.”
“You think you only see stiletto knives in gangster movies,” former intelligence official and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd said Tuesday afternoon. “If you want a stiletto knife in the bureaucracy of Washington, DC, you just saw one.”
He went on to say that between the White House’s shifting timeline on when they learned about Porter’s alleged domestic violence and the FBI’s, he’s more likely to side with the bureau chief’s explanation.
“When you close the file in July on a high-profile investigation that I presume is being expedited, and that thing is still being adjudicated six, seven months later in February, what does that tell you?” Mudd mused. “I can tell you, it tells me it wasn’t being adjudicated for smoking dope in high school or for getting a speeding ticket.”
“There was a serious problem with that file,” he continued. “Whether or not White House officials knew what was in the personal details of what was in the file isn’t the question that needs to be asked.”
“They knew that this guy couldn’t get a clearance after more than a half a year of adjudication,” Mudd concluded. “That’s all I need, Wolf.”
Phil Mudd is part of the Deep State too – the reality folks – and Jonathan Swan adds this:
Chief of Staff John Kelly’s White House enemies are ready to use FBI Director Chris Wray’s testimony as a weapon: “Wray’s FBI timeline makes one thing clear: the Kelly cover-up is unraveling right before our eyes,” a White House official says.
Kelly’s allies insist he knew nothing about the domestic violence until the Daily Mail story and that former White House aide Rob Porter misled Kelly to get the positive statement. (Porter denies this and tells associates he gave Kelly a full picture of what would be in the story, and denied the more serious accusations of physical abuse.)
Kelly’s story – that he acted immediately and decisively “within 40 minutes” to terminate Porter last Tuesday night – is also undermined by what multiple White House officials told reporters in real time. They said on Wednesday that nobody asked Porter to resign and in fact several senior officials asked him to “stay and fight.”
Kelly had overseen relative calm among White House staff since his appointment. The bungled response to allegations of abuse by Porter has thrown that into disarray.
Someone has to take the fall, and it won’t be Trump, and the Daily Beast reports this:
Aides and confidants say that trust between the internal White House departments has been damaged by the failure to adequately explain why Porter – who stands accused by two ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse – was able to stay on the job for as long as he did. There are persistent rumors that the news of Porter’s past alleged abuses was initially leaked to the press by someone inside the administration. And though the White House publicly insists that Chief of Staff John Kelly enjoys the trust and faith of the president, there are notable rumblings of discontent over his handling of the matter, in and outside of the administration.
“The question does become who knew what and how much did they tell Kelly – I think he is on some delicate ground,” Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), a prominent Trump surrogate told The Daily Beast. “But he could move forward… Look at [Jeff] Sessions. He has gotten it behind him. There are people who have lost the president’s favor and have come back.”
“I’m gonna say yes,” Kingston added, when asked if Kelly will be there in a month. “It’s not an overly confident yes.”
Kelly may be toast, or someone else may be toast:
Outside of Kelly, aides inside the administration have lobbied private criticism at the role played by White House counsel Don McGahn, who some feel has largely escaped scrutiny during the Porter saga. But perhaps no one’s standing in the West Wing has been more publicly damaged than members of the White House’s top communications team. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and her deputy Raj Shah have dutifully toed the White House line on the unfolding scandal. But that line continues to change and has often contained contradictions.
It seems that things are falling apart, and in the background, Robert Mueller is closing in, and the Darth Vader theme is playing in the background, or it ought to be. That’s how you know that the Empire – the Deep State – is about to strike back. It just did.