If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m pretty cautious in my arguments, cautious on a lot of fronts. I can be aggressive in how I frame those arguments. I sometimes speak in hyperbole. But in basic judgments I’m quite cautious. Something is fundamentally wrong here. There is no reasonable explanation for the simple facts we see other than that Russia has some kind of hold over President Trump.
President Trump’s press conference with President Putin was relatively normal by the extremely abnormal standards of the Trump Presidency – until the end. Then, when asked about who he believed, Russia or US intelligence, Trump went on a tirade against the FBI, lashing out about the DNC server, Hillary’s emails and more. Later, Putin provided a non-denial denial about a pee tape and Trump concluded with a final attack against Peter Strzok and the Mueller “witch hunt.”
Asked whether he believes US intel or Putin, Trump goes on tirade against FBI over "DNC Server", says it's not clear who to believe. pic.twitter.com/d7Viw1Vn4B
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 16, 2018
Take a moment to read this column by David Ignatius in the Post. Ignatius’s column in early 2017, first revealing the calls between Michael Flynn and the then-Russia Ambassador, was a key moment in the whole Russia story. It lit a fuse that led to Flynn’s resignation only weeks later and showed for perhaps the first time that the entire Trump/Russia story – with at least some levels of collusion – was quite real. This new column has no big news revelation. What is provides is perspective, ways in which the Friday indictments are a warning to both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
In the first case, one of the things that is easy to lose sight of in the 29 page indictment, precisely because it is so front and center, is just how much visibility the US seems to have into Russian intelligence operations. It is quite extraordinary. The details read more like a government’s after-action report of its own activities than intelligence gathered about an adversary government’s most secret operations. To some degree this is just the extraordinary capacities of US intelligence services, the fruits of which the public seldom gets to see in any sort of detail. But it seems like a particularly deep penetration of Russian intelligence specifically. As Ignatius notes, Putin must be wondering what else the US knows, what other operations are compromised and whether there are human as well as signals intelligence compromises they don’t know about.
From the column …
Looking at this case through a counterintelligence lens raises an intriguing new series of questions. In putting all the detail into the indictment, Mueller was giving Russian intelligence a hint of how much America can see. But this public disclosure may mask much deeper capabilities — perhaps a capacity to expose many more layers of GRU military-intelligence operations and those by the Russian civilian spy services, the FSB and the SVR. American intelligence agencies rarely tip their hand this way by disclosing so much in an indictment; clearly they did so here to send messages.
Key line from a new article in The Jerusalem Post on the apparent denouement of the Syrian Civil War and Israel’s effort to enlist Russian assistance in securing its key strategic objectives in a post-conflict Syria: “Benjamin Netanyahu worked laboriously mobilizing all his influence in Washington to persuade Donald Trump to meet Vladimir Putin.”
It got overwhelmed by news of the new Special Counsel indictments on Friday. But a group of Senate Democrats released a report late on Thursday (or early Friday) which shows why Congressional oversight is so important and what might be in store for next year. Most coverage of the report focused on the fact that Novartis gave Trump fixer Michael Cohen policy recommendations that ended up included in official administration policy. But that’s not the most important finding.
This is wild. You may have heard of the British far-right activist Tommy Robinson (actually a pseudonym for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon). He’s the founder of something called the English Defense League, a far-right nationalist group with a record of organized violence against British Muslims. Think of it as some variant of US alt-right types but with a specific focus on anti-Muslim xenophobia. Pam Geller, just more terrible and violent. He’s currently serving a year sentence for breaking a UK law that bars certain kinds of publicity of on-going criminal trials.
That’s “Tommy Robinson”.
Now, remember Sam Brownback, the former GOP Senator and later Governor of Kansas who close to bankrupted the state? He’s now President Trump’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Usually Republicans look to some one like this to speak out for Christian groups in majority Muslim countries with maybe a smattering of attention to other religions to keep up appearances. (To be clear, Christian groups are currently targeted for repression and violence in a number of Middle Eastern countries at the moment – Copts in Egypt, Christian groups in Iraq, etc. Obviously there are many global cases of religious persecutions facing other religions.)
But according to Reuters, when Brownback was meeting with the British Ambassador to the US recently he pressed him for better treatment of Robinson and apparently threatened that the US would go public with the criticism if his government did not. “Brownback told [Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch] that if Britain did not treat Robinson more sympathetically, the Trump administration might be compelled to criticize Britain’s handling of the case, according to the two sources in contact with organizers of the planned pro-Robinson demonstration.”
The British were apparently bewildered by why a roving ambassador for religious freedom would lobby on behalf of a notorious anti-Muslim bigot with a record of violence in the UK. I’m frankly not as bewildered. In the Brownback/Trump milieu anti-Muslim activism is frequently seen as a de facto express of religious liberty activism on behalf of Christians. But separate from that, this isn’t the kind of getting in each other’s business the US and Great Britain usually do with each other.
There’s no specific evidence. But the Reuters story was published tonight. It seems hard to figure that this bit of information wasn’t shaken free by President Trump’s apparent attempts over the last 48 hours to topple the current British government.
A few more miscellaneous thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. on this day of remembrance.
One: King was a troublemaker. In many ways, he became more of a troublemaker as he progressed through his life. In key ways, in the final years and especially the final year of his life, he was being abandoned by key supporters and sidelined because he was focusing not solely on race (on which the country was then beginning to build at least a notional elite consensus) but on poverty and democratic socialism and the Vietnam War, issues that divided many of his supporters. It is always important to remember that King died in Memphis because he was there to support a strike not an integration march, though racial discrimination and labor rights were and are impossible to separate. Read More
Here is what I am thankful for. It’s not the only thing I’m thankful for. It’s not what I’m most thankful for. But it is something I’m very thankful for and it is the thing I’m thankful for that relates directly to this site. So this seems like the place to give thanks. Read More
We’re seeing a lot of coverage today of reports that US intelligence officials warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful sharing information with Donald Trump because he might be compromised by the Russians. This is not new information. Indeed, it is an example of just how much and how early we’ve known about the crisis in the White House, with still relatively little attention being given to the fact of it. Read More
We have four editorial positions we’re currently hiring for. But today we’re announcing one that is uniquely important to me and the future of the organization, our first Prime Editor. This isn’t just an editor to help oversee our subscription content. It’s an editor to help oversee and shape a new way of covering the news that we’ll be doing exclusively within Prime. Please see the full listing after the jump. If you’re up for an exciting challenge and want to work in an expanding, vital newsroom, I encourage you to apply.
(Our other three open positions are: Senior Editor, Assistant Editor and a third reporter to join our Investigations Desk team.) Read More
We now have a basic matter of statutory interpretation determining who is in fact acting director of the CFPB. My sense was that Leandra English had the stronger legal argument here, even if the President has greater powers to get his way in a case like this and likely enjoys more deference from the courts. But the fact the CFPB’s own top lawyer is siding with the President suggests that at a minimum it’s not clear cut in English’s favor. Again, this is a relatively straightforward conflict between two statutes. There are established frameworks judges use to decide which is the controlling law. So, for lawyer readers with experience in this kind of legal analysis, what’s your take? What are the questions we should be asking to help us understand how a judge might rule? Drop me a line at our comments email address linked under the TPM logo at the upper right.
Over the long weekend, I took a flyer on a lot of my normal writing, spent time with my family and collected notes on something I’m writing about U.S. Grant and the nature of writing. I saved up a number of articles I wanted to pore over and mine for new information about the Russia probe when the weekend was over. Here are the articles on my reading list today in Josh’s Reading List #7 (sub req).