Everyone remembers the movie – Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC, fed up with the implication that he ordered two of his Marines to beat the crap out of a difficult recruit, to beat some sense into that damned wimp, who happened to die. Maybe he gave the order. But he doesn’t think the young JAG officer, Tom Cruise, really wants to know:
You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? … You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. … I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!
Every young conservative memorizes that speech. That’s tough. That’s real. That’s Trump Tough. Donald Trump did tell all the top people in the military, all the top generals, to their faces, that they were all “losers” and “a bunch of dopes and babies” – every damned one of them. They had no idea how to win wars and he did. He was Colonel Jessup. He was tough. They were wimps. They knew nothing – but of course, in the movie, Jessup, in his fit of righteous anger, shouts out that he did give that order – damned right! And then he’s taken into custody for what he did, and he has no idea why that just happened. What did he do, really?
There are limits, even for righteous conservatives, and it may be that Donald Trump cannot handle the truth:
Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.
The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing.
And then he fired Joseph Maguire. No one doubts what Russia had done and what it was doing again, except for Donald Trump, but he has the advantage here:
Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying the conclusions could have been delivered in a less pointed manner or left out entirely to avoid angering Republicans. The intelligence official who delivered the briefing, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire and has a reputation for speaking bluntly.
So, tone it down, or say there is no threat and there never was one, but it was too late for that:
Though intelligence officials have previously told lawmakers that Russia’s interference campaign was continuing, last week’s briefing included what appeared to be new information: that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election.
On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and an aggressively vocal Trump supporter.
Mr. Trump has long accused the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 interference as the work of a “deep state” conspiracy intent on undermining the validity of his election. Intelligence officials feel burned by their experience after the last election, when their work became a subject of intense political debate and is now a focus of a Justice Department investigation.
Now, perhaps, they’ll know better. Report what you find, but know that the Justice Department may investigate you for treason or something, if what you find angers the president, but a lot of this was about just one man:
Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Schiff would “weaponize” the intelligence about Russia’s support for him, according to a person familiar with the briefing. And he was angry that he was not told right away about the briefing, the person said.
Mr. Trump has fixated on Mr. Schiff since the impeachment saga began, pummeling him publicly with insults and unfounded accusations of corruption. In October, Mr. Trump refused to invite lawmakers from the congressional intelligence committees to a White House briefing on Syria because he did not want Mr. Schiff there, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Schiff chairs the House intelligence committee, but Trump will cut him off from any intelligence gathered anywhere. That’ll keep him quiet. He won’t be allowed to know anything about anything. He has the constitutional right to that intelligence by virtue of his position – congressional oversight and all that – but what’s he gonna do, sue?
So that solves that problem, but there is the larger problem:
President Trump said Friday that the disclosure by American intelligence officials that Russia was again meddling in a presidential election in his favor was merely another partisan attack against him, continuing a pattern in which he has sought to dismiss warnings of foreign interference in American elections.
“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Hoax number 7!”
He will maintain that the Russians did nothing in 2016 and are doing nothing now. Putin is our friend. He’d never do that. But the Democrats are our enemy:
At an afternoon campaign rally in Las Vegas, Mr. Trump continued with his accusations that Democrats were behind the reports and said they were trying to “poison our democracy” and were circulating “vile” hoaxes.
“I was told a week ago,” the president said. “They said, ‘You know they’re trying to start a rumor.’ It’s disinformation. That’s the only thing they’re good at. They’re not good at anything else. They get nothing done. Do nothing Democrats.”
And then he moved on:
At his rally on Friday, the president called up members of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” men’s hockey team to take the stage behind him and waxed at length about his reality show “The Apprentice.”
“Speaking also of reality television: This is the greatest show of all time, huh?” the president said. “I have to get back to Washington and work. I feel guilty. This is too much fun.”
But he took care of business too:
Mr. Trump also used the trip as an opportunity to take on some favorite targets, casting doubt on assorted institutions at every turn. He voiced his suspicions about Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, comparing it to the disastrous ones held in Iowa earlier this month.
“I hear their computers are all messed up just like they were in Iowa,” he said.
The president described members of the media as “the most dishonest human beings in the world” and accused law enforcement of harboring “dirty cops.”
He also repeatedly joked with the crowd that he would stay president longer than two terms, a comment he has made at other events.
But that’s business as usual:
Mr. Trump has a long history of dismissing the assessments made by intelligence agencies that he has deemed unfair or unflattering.
Multiple agencies have determined that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and, before the 2018 midterms, delivered warnings that Russia was prepared to do it again. Early in his presidency, Mr. Trump grudgingly accepted those assessments before falling back on personal assurances from Mr. Putin.
“He said he didn’t meddle,” Mr. Trump said in November 2017. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Since then, Mr. Trump, with the assistance of his Justice Department, has moved to retaliate against the intelligence community rather than Mr. Putin.
So, now the question is, that since the CIA and NSA and all the service intelligence agencies, and the FBI too, are now completely controlled by the Democratic Party, and working every single day to undermine the president – which is treason – should President Trump shut them down, all of them, and, by executive order, simply abolish them? And who should be executed for treason?
Of course that’s absurd, but Adam Serwer points out where this is heading:
The Senate’s vote to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges he faced, despite the incontrovertible proof that he sought to use his official powers to force a foreign country to falsely implicate a political rival, was not simply a vote to keep him in office until the electorate can render its verdict. Republican senators affirmatively voted to allow the president to use his official powers to suppress the opposition party, to purge government employees who proved more loyal to the Constitution than to Trump, and to potentially prosecute or otherwise criminally implicate his political enemies without lawful cause, while shielding Trump allies from legal sanction. The acquittal vote ratified the authoritarian instincts of the president and the ideological convictions of his attorney general.
The acquittal vote did all that? Perhaps it did:
Authoritarian nations come in many different stripes, but they all share a fundamental characteristic: The people who live in them are not allowed to freely choose their own leaders. This is why Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, in his speech announcing his vote to convict on the first article of impeachment, said that “corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
Democracies are sustained through the formal process by which power is contested and exchanged. Once that process is corrupted, you have merely the trappings of democracy within an authoritarian regime. Such governments may retain elections and courts and legislatures, but those institutions have no power to enforce the rule of law. America is not there yet, but the acquittal vote was a fateful step in that direction…
Legislators in functioning democracies need not agree on substantive policy matters – they might fight over environmental safeguards, for example, or tax rates, or immigration, or health care. But no matter the party or ideology they support, they must hold sacred the right of the people to choose their own leaders. The entire Senate Republican Conference has only one legislator willing to act on that principle.
The lesson Trump has learned from impeachment is that the Republican Party will let him get away with anything he wants to do.
And then there’s Attorney General William Barr:
After calling the accusation that Trump collaborated with foreign powers in an effort to swing American elections a “hoax,” Barr set up an official channel for the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to funnel foreign dirt on Trump’s rivals to the Justice Department. After falsely claiming that Joe Biden had demanded the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor to protect his son, Trump has engaged in the exact act he accused Biden of engaging in, by attempting to shield his henchman Roger Stone from legal consequences for breaking the law on his behalf, leading to the resignation of the prosecutors working on the case. Barr also has handpicked advisers “reviewing” the case against Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia officials during the transition.
The day of Trump’s acquittal, the Justice Department announced that Barr would have to approve any investigations into the 2020 presidential candidates, giving him the authority to shut down criminal investigations of the president’s associates or approve inquiries into his rivals. Speaking to reporters, Trump claimed the “absolute right” to determine who is and who is not prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Perhaps there is no law but Trump, although Barr is subtle about that:
Modern authoritarian institutions diligently seek to preserve the appearance of democratic accountability. Perhaps for this reason, Barr has insisted publicly that he is protecting the independence of the Justice Department. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” he told reporters last week. Barr insisted, “If Trump were to say ‘Go investigate somebody,’ and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then an attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out.”
This is a lawyerly dodge masquerading as bluster – Barr does not need to be bullied into shielding Trump and his friends or pursuing his enemies. Indeed, Barr’s task is to do so while maintaining a veneer of legitimacy over the process, which is impossible to do when Trump makes such demands publicly. Privately, Trump seethes that Barr has not thrown more of his critics in prison, as Barr and his underlings scheme to sate the president’s rage.
So, all in all, this is a dangerous situation:
Let us pause for a moment to take stock of this vision of government. It is a state in which the legislature can neither oversee the executive branch nor pass laws that constrain it. A state in which legal requests for government records on those associated with the political opposition are satisfied immediately, and such requests related to the sitting executive are denied wholesale. It is a system in which the executive can be neither investigated for criminal activity nor removed by the legislature for breaking the law. It is a government in which only the regime party may make enforceable demands, and where the opposition party may compete in elections, but only against the efforts of federal law enforcement to marginalize them for their opposition to the president. It is a vision of government in which members of the civil service may break the law on the leader’s behalf, but commit an unforgivable crime should they reveal such malfeasance to the public.
Were it in any other nation, how would you describe a government that functions this way?
Adam Serwer suggests it might be time to wake up about all this:
Many Americans have doubtless failed to recognize what has occurred, or how quickly the nation is hurtling toward a state of unfreedom that may prove impossible to reverse. How long the Trump administration lasts should be up to the American people to decide. But this president would never risk allowing them to freely make such a choice. The Republican Party has shown that nothing would cause it to restrain the president, and so he has no reason to restrain himself.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the American imagination of catastrophe has been limited to sudden, shocking events, the kind that shatter a sunny day in a storm of blood. That has left Americans unprepared for a different kind of catastrophe, the kind that spreads slowly and does not abruptly announce itself.
The Senate acquittal marked the beginning of a fundamental transition of the United States from a democracy, however flawed, toward authoritarianization. It was, in short, the end of the Trump administration, and the first day of the would-be Trump Regime.
And now it’s time to establish that regime:
Richard Grenell’s tenure as the nation’s top intelligence official may be short-lived, but he wasted no time this week starting to shape his team of advisers, ousting his office’s No. 2 official – a longtime intelligence officer – and bringing in an expert on Trump conspiracy theories to help lead the agency, according to officials.
Mr. Grenell has also requested the intelligence behind the classified briefing last week before the House Intelligence Committee where officials told lawmakers that Russia was interfering in November’s presidential election and that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia favored President Trump’s re-election.
He said to the CIA and NSA and all the rest “Show me your work!” They will spend weeks and weeks defending every item no matter how small. That’ll shut them up, and there’s this:
Joseph Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, and his deputy, Andrew P. Hallman, resigned on Friday. Mr. Grenell told Mr. Hallman, popular in the office’s Liberty Crossing headquarters, that his service was no longer needed, according to two officials. Mr. Hallman, who has worked in the office or at the CIA for three decades, expressed confidence in his colleagues in a statement but also referred to the “uncertainties that come with change.”
The ouster of Mr. Hallman and exit of Mr. Maguire, who also oversaw the National Counterterrorism Center, allowed Mr. Grenell to install his own leadership team.
And that’s odd:
One of his first hires was Kashyap Patel, a senior National Security Council staff member and former key aide to Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Patel will have a mandate to “clean house,” CBS News reported, citing a person close to the matter.
Mr. Patel was best known as the lead author of a politically charged memo two years ago that accused FBI and Justice Department leaders of abusing their surveillance powers to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser.
That turned out to be laughable nonsense, but it was good for a news cycle or two, or thirty or forty Fox News cycles. And now he’s in charge too, but this is part of a far larger purge:
President Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal, a post-impeachment escalation that administration officials say reflects a new phase of a campaign of retribution and restructuring ahead of the November election.
Johnny McEntee, Trump’s former personal aide who now leads the effort as director of presidential personnel, has begun combing through various agencies with a mandate from the president to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty, according to several administration officials and others familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The push comes in the aftermath of an impeachment process in which several members of Trump’s administration provided damning testimony about his behavior with regard to Ukraine. The stream of officials publicly criticizing Trump’s actions frustrated the president and caused him to fixate on cleaning house after his acquittal this month.
“We want bad people out of our government!” Trump tweeted Feb. 13, kicking off a tumultuous stretch of firings, resignations, controversial appointments and private skirmishes that have since spilled into public view.
And now Johnny McEntee has his first scalps:
John C. Rood, the official in charge of Defense Department policy who had certified that Ukraine had met anti-corruption obligations, was let go this week. Victoria Coates, the deputy national security adviser who was viewed with suspicion by some White House aides, was removed from her post and was moved to an advisory position in the Energy Department.
So everyone should watch their backs and worry a lot:
McEntee spent part of this week asking officials in various Cabinet agencies to provide names of political appointees working in government who are not fully supportive of Trump’s presidency, according to administration officials.
The president instructed McEntee to find people in the administration who aren’t aligned with Trump and “get rid” of them, according to someone familiar with the president’s directive. Trump did not provide additional specificity on what exactly he wanted beyond a workforce that more fully reflects his instincts, the person said, and it is unclear what criteria are being used to determine an official’s fealty to the president.
So no one knows what to fix to keep their job or how to please Johnny McEntee and thus Donald Trump. They’ll have to guess. Guess wrong and they’re out. This is ultimate control, and it’s a family thing:
Trump’s family members have been among the main champions of the effort to force out officials who have not proved their devotion to Trump. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser in the White House, has played a central role in the push, concentrating more power in the West Wing and working to combat leaks, officials said. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter that the impeachment investigation was helpful in “unearthing who all needed to be fired.”
Get in good with the family or get out while you can, because this family can destroy you, although there is a bit of a downside to all this:
Brendan Buck, a longtime adviser to former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said that while Trump is entitled to have political appointees who support his agenda, the purity tests could make it difficult to find qualified people.
“If they also insist on hiring only people who’ve never taken issue with something the president has done, it’s going to be slim pickings,” he said.
But welcome to the Trump Regime:
McEntee, who lost his job in 2018 over concerns about his online gambling, has long expressed an interest in the personnel office despite having no previous government experience, two administration officials said. Within the West Wing, he is seen as fiercely devoted to the president and is well liked by first lady Melania Trump, the officials said.
Some within the White House have bristled at his lack of experience and aggressive approach to ferreting out “Never Trumpers.”
McEntee “does not have the relevant experience to do this job, unless the job is to purge Never Trumpers and reward loyalists,” one official said.
Another senior administration official countered that McEntee was talented and up to the task, with the key qualification of having the president’s confidence.
And the boss’ wife likes him too. That’s important in any authoritarian regime. This is family. The government is this family. You got a problem with that, punk?
And there’s the almost comic counterpart to all this:
Russia has been trying to intervene in the Democratic primaries to aid Senator Bernie Sanders, according to people familiar with the matter, and Mr. Sanders said on Friday that intelligence officials recently briefed him.
The disclosure came a day before the Nevada caucuses, where Mr. Sanders is a favorite, and followed revelations a day earlier that Moscow was interfering on President Trump’s behalf this year, as it did in 2016.
Mr. Sanders denounced Russia in a statement, calling President Vladimir V. Putin an “autocratic thug” and warning Moscow to stay out of the election. Drawing a contrast with Mr. Trump, he said he would stand against any efforts by Russia or another foreign power to interfere in the vote.
Does that even matter? Bernie Sanders seems to assume there will be an election. The regime may not allow that. You can’t handle the truth!