Valentine’s Day this year wasn’t all that sweet at the White House. Donald and Melania Trump weren’t holding hands and smiling. Donald Trump didn’t send her roses, as far as anyone could tell. Melania Trump had refused to go the World Economic Forum in Davos with her husband. She wasn’t going to be his trophy wife, the stunning Slovenian Sphinx. She visited the Washington Holocaust museum instead, alone, and then headed off to Florida, to do that Greta Garbo thing – she wanted to be alone – and on Valentine’s Day the story of her husband’s affair with the porn star, just after she had given birth to their son, was in the news again. Maybe that never happened, and if it did it was more than a decade ago, but her husband’s personal attorney had just admitted that just before the election he had paid off the porn star to be quiet – with his own money. The porn star then said that since Trump’s personal attorney had admitted that, she was now free to tell all – and she would. Melania Trump had a bad Valentine’s Day.
Donald Trump had a worse one. The wife-beater scandal wouldn’t go away, even if the wife-beater, Rob Porter, had. The White House had said no one had known about his issues. No one had told them about that – but the day before, Christopher Wray – the guy Trump appointed to head the FBI after he had fired that pesky James Comey – had blown that up. Wray testified to Congress – in open session – that the FBI had told the White House about Porter, last year, in March, and had sent over the completed file in June. Porter beat his wives, and wanted to keep it quiet, so Porter could be blackmailed. Porter shouldn’t be given a security clearance of any kind, and he certainly shouldn’t be the one guy who received and consolidated all the top secret stuff sent to the president every day. Wray said the FBI had answered all follow-up questions from the White House. Porter was trouble, but Wray was trouble. No one knew? That wasn’t going to fly. The White House spent Valentine’s Day trying to figure out what they were going to say about all this. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, would have to say something to the reporters. Her daily press briefing was pushed back one hour, then another hour, then another hour, and then another – and then it was cancelled. There’s Washington-talk for that. They put a lid on it.
That was a good idea:
A senior official on the National Economic Council says he resigned on Tuesday after being informed that he would not receive a permanent security clearance, as the White House faces increasing scrutiny over the number of high-ranking officials allowed to work on interim clearances.
George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, told POLITICO that he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.
Like an estimated three dozen others in the White House, Banks had been working on an interim security clearance while the administration determined the status of his full clearance.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment… Speechwriter David Sorensen, who worked at the Council on Environmental Quality, stepped down on Friday over domestic abuse allegations.
That’s three, and late in the day there was this:
Nearly a year into President Donald Trump’s administration, senior-level staffers – including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Rob Porter – remained on interim clearances even as other senior advisers were granted full security access, according to information obtained by CNN from a US government official.
Having interim clearance can hamper a staffer’s ability to perform essential functions of the job, a former administration official said. It requires those with full permanent clearances to remain vigilant about what information is shared with those still operating on an interim basis.
There were more than 100 staffers in the Executive Office of the President who were operating on interim clearances more than a year after Trump was elected, according to the information…
Some officials who started on January 20, 2017, and were without permanent clearances by November include a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the National Security Council’s senior director for international cybersecurity…
Some others had been approved for permanent access to top secret information but were still working off interim access to Sensitive Compartmented Information. That included Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and Sarah Sanders, the press secretary.
That’s more than three, and then there was this:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told CNN on Wednesday that his committee has launched an investigation into former White House aide Rob Porter following abuse allegations by his ex-wives.
Gowdy confirmed the news in a letter to White House chief of staff John Kelly later Wednesday, stating there is an investigation into “the extent to which any security clearance issued to Porter comported” with “the policies and processes by which interim security clearances are investigated and adjudicated within the Executive Branch.”
Gowdy wrote that his committee “seeks to better understand the criteria and the scope of an investigation for determining whether to issue an interim security clearance generally; who adjudicated his clearance; and what derogatory information was subsequently made available to the White House on Porter, when, and to whom.”
Trey Gowdy is a Republican. It may be that Republicans no long fear those Trump Tweets of Death, with the sneering nicknames for guys like Gowdy. Gowdy doesn’t care, and of course the day before, the nation’s top intelligence chiefs testified that Russia is continuing efforts to disrupt our political system and is targeting the 2018 midterm elections. The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming again. That’s what they told Congress, in open session. That’s not what Trump says. Trump says all of that is a hoax. He won the election fair and square. Nothing happened, but the nation’s top intelligence chiefs, almost all appointed by Donald Trump, turned on him. Reporters will ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders about that. There’s no way to keep a lid on all of this.
This was a bad Valentine’s Day at the White House, but then the White House caught a lucky break. Like clockwork, there was another school shooting:
A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.
The violence unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a school of more than 3,000 students in a tony suburb northwest of Fort Lauderdale where houses sit on broad lots.
The Broward County sheriff identified the suspect as Nikolas Cruz, who had recently attended the school but had been kicked out for “disciplinary reasons.” He was captured after a manhunt that transfixed the region and forced a nearby school into a lockdown, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Students recalled terror and confusion in the aftermath of the shooting.
“It’s a horrific, horrific day,” said Israel, whose own triplets graduated from the well-regarded high school. “It’s catastrophic. There really are no words.” The victims included several students and adults, authorities said.
That’ll change the subject. Everything political disappeared from every news feed. Cable news covered nothing else, but there were no words because it all sounded so familiar:
The gunman started firing before even entering the school, leaving a trail of carnage across the sprawling campus, Israel said. A dozen of the dead were found inside the school, and three were found outside. Two others succumbed to their injuries at a hospital. A football coach was among those killed, the sheriff said Wednesday night. Twelve of the victims had been identified by late Wednesday, Israel said…
“It is a day you pray every day you don’t have to see,” said Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, reflecting on one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. The shooter came to the school armed with weaponry that evoked a battlefield, not a school located down the street from an equestrian park. He carried “countless magazines” and an AR-15 rifle, Israel said.
These things happen and there were the usual ignored warning signs:
Authorities who were beginning to analyze his motives had unearthed social media postings that “are very, very disturbing,” Israel said.
An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns. One appeared to show a gun’s holographic laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. A second showed at least six rifles and handguns laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” Other pictures showed a box of large-caliber rounds with the caption “cost me $30.” One of the most disturbing appeared to show a dead frog’s bloodied corpse.
And so it goes:
This is at least the third school shooting this year, and one of the deadliest on record. Beginning with Columbine 19 years ago, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus, according to a Washington Post analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories. That doesn’t count dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire.
And there was this:
President Trump said he had been briefed on the shooting and tweeted, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
He said nothing else. This was pro forma. He had other things on his mind, and the Daily Beast covers the usual:
The teens who knew Cruz at the school were stunned. They described Cruz as an awkward “outcast” – someone who had trouble fitting in at Douglas High. But they never saw a mass murderer in the making.
“I knew him to be passive aggressive but not violent. He was rude to people. He had an act up like he was tough. He never got into, like, physical fights with anyone, but he did get into verbal arguments,” 17-year-old Ocean Parodie told The Daily Beast. “I just thought he dropped out of school, I didn’t think he would do anything. He always kept a low profile.”
“He was definitely not accepted at our school socially. People saw him as someone who was different than the normal people at our school,” Parodie added.
It was the same old story, with a minor twist:
Cruz always had his hair short and had a penchant for wearing patriotic shirts that “seemed really extreme, like hating on” Islam, Parodie said. The suspected gunman would also deride Muslims as “terrorists and bombers.”
“I’ve seen him wear a Trump hat,” the student said.
Trump was right, then, to say next to nothing, but the connection to him is tenuous:
Parodie’s 15-year-old sister, Milan, had a similar impression of Cruz.
“I could tell he tried to be social at times but there was something off about him,” she said. “I never really saw him with many people. Girls thought he was creepy and weird. He was pretty pale with red hair. I didn’t talk to him that much, but from what I could tell he wasn’t a nice kid. He wore a lot of black and was always alone.”
That makes him more like Steve Bannon, but the kids knew something was wrong:
“Honestly, a lot of people were saying that it was gonna be him,” one student told [local television station] WJXT of Cruz. “Actually, a lot of kids joked… saying that he was gonna be the one to shoot up the school, but it turns out, you know, everyone predicted it, that’s crazy.”
The student added: “He was in the third floor. He knows the school layout, he knows where everyone would be… he’s been in the fire drills. He’s prepared for this stuff.”
Another student told WFOR-TV that Cruz “always had guns on him.”
They knew, and there’s the socioeconomic angle:
Helen Pasciolla, a former neighbor of Cruz, told the New York Times that he had told her his family had been forced to sell their house in the upscale neighborhood because of money problems. She also told the paper both Cruz and his brother were adopted and their adoptive father had died.
Their mother, Lynda Cruz, would call the police to try to help deal with the boys’ behavioral problems, Pasciolla told the Times.
“I think she wanted to scare them a little bit,” she said. “Nikolas has behavioral problems, I think, but I never thought he would be violent.”
No one ever thinks that. Everyone knows that. This was the usual interruption in the usual flow of political news, and Richard Wolffe knows the drill:
This is no time to talk politics, we’re told by gun-loving conservatives.
This is a time for prayers, we’re told by Donald Trump.
“There really are no words,” we’re told by the local sheriff.
So it’s okay, everyone. We can get back to the latest blather about tax cuts for corporations or billions for a border wall. Those are the things that politics, and presidents, and words, can handle.
But if we can’t talk about saving the lives of our children, if our politics can’t keep our schools safe, if we can’t talk about the mass murder of innocence, then what on earth are we talking about? What’s the point of any politician if they can’t do this one simple thing: protect our youngest citizens?
Wolffe seems to be arguing that politics is about the people – the polis (the city or the body of citizens in Greek) – the people – the root word of policy too. That comes into play here:
If this was the eighth terrorist attack of 2018, don’t you think every member of Congress – not just Democrats – would bleat on about taking urgent action? If ISIS-inspired gunmen had just mowed down 17 high school students in their classrooms, how long would it take before our president spoke in front of the nation’s TV cameras?
Instead, we’ll have to settle for a tweet. Because when we need leadership the most, there’s no point in raising your hopes with the man who watches Fox News all day inside the White House.
Instead, we get this:
There have been many attempts to tackle assault weapons like the AR-15. When Senator Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat, tried to do that in 2013 – one month after the Sandy Hook school massacre – there were 60 “no” votes that killed the effort, including those of 15 Democrats.
Among those no votes was one Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who told Fox News on Wednesday that now wasn’t the time to talk about gun control. “I think you can always have that debate,” he said. “But if you’re gonna have that debate about this particular incident you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe some law that you claim could have prevented it.”
Wolffe smells bullshit:
Senator Rubio: Save yourself the trouble. You don’t need to know the facts because the last time you heard the facts, you voted against regulating the very gun that massacred all those schoolchildren at Sandy Hook. It’s so funny how you need to be 100% sure about the impact of gun control laws when you are prepared to throw any amount of legislation and spending at the far less deadly terrorist threat to the United States.
Rubio can get away with this nonsense now, even more than he could in 2013. There were 20 children killed at Sandy Hook and America was shocked to its core. There were 17 children killed in Parkland, and by next week we’ll all just pretend it was the cost of doing business.
And then there’s Donald Trump:
It’s at times like these that a normal president would step up to reassure the country of its values and take action to protect its citizens. But we don’t have one of those right now. This is the leader who took a whole week to say he was “totally opposed to domestic violence” after his staff secretary quit, amid accusations from his ex-wives of just that. Trump’s supposed condemnation came after he heaped praise on the guy for his job in the White House, wished him the best in his career, and suggested that he deserved “due process” against all these allegations.
That won’t do:
Donald Trump doesn’t do moral values and he doesn’t do justice. That’s the cost of doing business with a man who wanted the death penalty for five teenagers known as the Central Park Five, and claimed they were guilty even after they were exonerated by DNA evidence.
Enough is enough is enough. If you care about our children, do something to protect them. If you want a politician who talks about our greatest threats, vote for someone who isn’t terrified of the National Rifle Association.
That’s not who America voted for, maybe, depending on how you count. This will go on, and the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board offers this:
When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.
Already the folks who support gun control are fuming about the ready availability of firearms in our society. Already the pro-gun folks are pooh-poohing those who think guns are integral to shooting deaths. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” they like to say. The accurate phrasing should be, “Guns don’t kill people. People with guns do.”
But somehow that became okay:
As a society we tend to become particularly shocked – at least for a few minutes – when someone shoots down children and young adults while they’re attending classes in what should be a positive, nurturing and safe environment. But even if we’re shocked, we tolerate it. Our outrage is more Pavlovian than visceral. We listen to the bleatings of the gun enthusiasts that, well, if those teachers had guns, then this wouldn’t have been as bad.
Been as bad? Think about that. If a pistol-strapping chemistry teacher had grabbed her .45 and unloaded on today’s gunman after he killed, what, one student? Three? Five? That would be good news?
We are a violent, disjointed, gun-embracing culture. “But wait!” you might say. “Not me! I hate guns! We need more gun control!” As true as that might be, that’s not the belief of the body politic. Because if it was, we wouldn’t be sitting in front of our television sets wondering what the final death tally will be. Feeling our heartstrings tugged by images of bereft parents. Feeling an impotent rage.
This is what America is today: bloody. The Florida shooting too shall pass…
The Florida shooting shouldn’t pass, but it will. That’s America’s problem, but curiously, that’s Donald Trump’s problem too. His presidency is disintegrating. He caught a lucky break. For one day, the worst day for him, so far, everyone was talking about something else, as they should have been. That won’t last. The best he can hope for is more school shootings, but that’s okay. He’ll get them.