Friday, May 12, 2017

Cruising the Web

Isn't there anyone around Trump that knows how to play the game? He was going to get grief for firing Comey; how come they couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation that passed the laugh test? No one believes that Trump suddenly decided that Comey's handling of the Clinton server and emails was the reason he fired Comey. Yet that was the explanation they put out there despite the praise that Trump had heaped on Comey when Comey's actions were helping Trump in the campaign. And now the administration's story keeps changing. Jake Tapper writes,
So, which is it? And did Trump, who huddled with Rosenstein on Monday, ask the deputy attorney general to write a memo to justify the firing? Or did Rosenstein do it of his own accord without Trump's knowledge? (There are conflicting reports on that coming out of the White House.) And did Trump turn on Comey relatively recently -- maybe starting with his testimony to Congress on May 3 -- or had he been considering getting rid of Comey from the first day of his presidency as Huckabee Sanders said? (There are conflicting reports on that too.)

What the ever-changing stories trying to explain why Trump did what he did suggest is that no one either knows or wants to talk about the real reason that Trump moved on Comey.

And that reason appears to be, according to scads of reporting in CNN and elsewhere, that Trump was angry at Comey -- for not being enough of a company man, for seemingly undercutting his 2016 victory, for dismissing the ideas that President Obama had surveilled him in the campaign, for continuing to push on the Russia investigation when Trump wanted him to spend more time on the number of leaks coming out of the intelligence agencies.
Now Trump tells Lester Holt that he was planning to fire Comey anyway regardless of what Deputy AG Rosenstein said. Jeff Dunetz comments on that interview:
“I was going to fire Comey,” Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview. “Regardless of the recommendation I was going to fire Comey.”

“Look, he’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago — it hasn’t recovered from that,”

But if that is the case, why did the White House press office say it was because he screwed up the handling of the Clinton Case, and the recommendation of Deputy AG Ron Rosenstein. I would love to know who came up with the fake excuse.
Being Donald Trump's press secretary is a truly awful job. It must be so hard to be sent out there to try to explain something Trump has done and give the story as you've been told it only to have Trump undercut you by saying something different. That must be why Sarah Huckabee Sanders' story keeps changing.
On Thursday, Trump insisted that he made the firing decision on his own, independent of advice from the Department of Justice. "Rosenstein made a recommendation," he told NBC during a sit-down interview, "but regardless of [that] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey."

That answer seems to completely contradict statements from both Vice President Mike Pence and deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, Pence told reporters that Trump had made a "decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general."

Sanders repeated that reasoning during a Morning Joe interview earlier in the day on MSNBC: "I think it's real simple," she said. "The deputy attorney general … made a very strong recommendation. The president followed it, and he made a quick and decisive action to fire James Comey."

That "real simple" story became real complicated when Trump gave his conflicting explanation to NBC's Lester Hold Thursday morning.

During a media briefing Thursday afternoon, Sanders tried to explain how her first version of the story could vary so differently from the president's narrative. Her answer? She was operating off of yesterday's information.

After speaking with the president before the briefing, Sanders clarified her story. "The recommendation that he got from the deputy attorney general further solidified his decision and again reaffirmed that he made the right one," she said. Or put another way, Trump wasn't so much looking for advice as he was looking for confirmation of his decision to ax Comey.

Sanders bristled when reporters insinuated that the White House was using Rosenstein as fall guy. "I don't think there was ever an attempt to the pin the decision on the deputy attorney general," she said less than 48 hours after telling MSNBC that the president was following Rosenstein's recommendation.
In fact, that was the excuse that Donald Trump gave in the letter that he sent to Comey firing him. Trump explicitly referred to receiving the recommendations for his dismissal from the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. Imagine having to go to the press and try to explain something that Trump himself keeps changing his reasoning.

And when he talks on the record, he just keeps making it worse as he did with the Lester Holt interview on NBC yesterday.
The interview began with Trump admitting that he was “going to fire Comey…there’s no good time to do it, by the way…I was going to fire him regardless of recommendation.” That contention is in direct opposition to statements by press secretary Sean Spicer, Vice President Mike Pence, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and many other top-level Republicans, all of whom spent the past 48 hours explaining that Trump had fired Comey on the recommendation of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

But the fun was only beginning.

Trump then stated openly that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he fired Comey. “[Rod Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, the Democrats like him, the Republicans like him, he made a recommendation I was going to fire Comey. Knowing, there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story…” This isn’t going to help White House’s contention that the Russia situation wasn’t on Trump’s mind when he fired Comey....

Later on the interview, Trump would contend that although “it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago,” he wants the investigation “to be absolutely done properly…I might even lengthen out the investigation but I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.” So Trump supposedly believes that Comey was just the wrong guy to finish the investigation in credible fashion. A few minutes later, Trump insisted the investigation was a hit job by Democrats, and that there was “no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians. The other thing is the Russians did not affect the vote.” Trump then tried to deny there was an FBI investigation, but had to walk that back after Holt informed him that Comey had testified under oath that there was.

The confusion didn’t end there, either.

Trump confessed that he had dined with Comey after his election – and that during that dinner, Trump had discussed Comey’s future. “He wanted to stay on as FBI head,” Trump recalled, “I said, “I’ll consider, we’ll see what happens,” but we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’” If you remember when Republicans used to oppose law enforcement meeting with the potential targets of investigations (see Lynch, Loretta and Clinton, Bill), that was long ago – now it’s apparently fine for the president to meet with the FBI director who is lobbying for retention, and to be assured by that FBI director that he’s not under investigation. Wow.

Trump did deny that anyone from the White House had asked Comey to end the investigation. At least he did that much.

Next, Trump then had to explain why he would fire Comey with nearly no notice after spending 18 days waiting to fire National Security Advisor Mike Flynn after acting attorney general Sally Yates told him Flynn might be compromised by the Russians. Trump dropped this whopper: “It didn’t sound like an emergency…and [Yates] didn’t make it sound that way either, in the hearings the other day, like it had to be done immediately….I believe it would be very unfair to hear from somebody we don’t even know and run out and fire a general…We ultimately fired, but we fired for a different reason.” Trump then concluded, “We fired him because he said something to the vice president that was not so.” He denied knowledge that Flynn had received payments from the Russian or Turkish governments, and then blamed the Obama administration.

I guess Trump figures he'll just keep throwing explanations against the wall until one of them sticks.

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We're starting to learn that several of the stories that we were told in the past couple of days about the Comey firing just aren't true. For example, we were told that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentstein threatened to quit because he didn't like the White House saying that Trump had fired Comey due to Rosenstein's recommendation. Now Rosenstein says that's not so.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he's not quitting, nor did he threaten to quit over his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
When asked by Sinclair Broadcast Group's Michelle Macaluso about reports that claim otherwise, he stated "no, I'm not quitting."

Macaluso: Did you threaten to quit?

Rosenstein: No.

That whole story came from a Washington Post story yesterday.

We were told that Comey had asked for more funding and personnel for the Russia investigation. Now Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe denies that they need more resources. On the other hand, reporters and the White House spokeswoman were saying that they heard that Comey had lost the support of the rank and file in the FBI. McCabe gave a ringing statement about how the rank and file had total confidence in Comey. Who knows? Do people who are upset with the director of the FBI confide in the deputy director about their distrust?

Someone's leaks were either wrong or what we're hearing now is wrong. Who knows these days?

McCabe did assert
rather forcefully that the FBI investigation into Russia's involvement in the election is proceeding whether or not Comey was in office.
FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe said Thursday that President Trump's firing of former Director James Comey has not measurably slowed down the bureau's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

McCabe was asked by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whether Comey's dismissal has hurt the FBI's investigation in any way, but McCabe said there were problems.

"As you know, senator, the work of the men and women of the FBI continues despite any changes in circumstance, any decisions," McCabe said. "So there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people, and upholding the Constitution."
If Trump fired Comey in order to put an end to the FBI's investigation of Russia and connections to the Trump campaign, the result is the exact opposite. There has now been such an uproar that it will be impossible to put an abrupt end to the Russia investigation. The whole investigation now will be so much more in the spotlight. As Rich Lowry writes, this was "the worst cover-up of all time."
The firing will draw more attention to Comey than ever before, at least in the short term; it won’t shut down the Russia investigation, which will continue as before, just with a new leader at the top; it will stoke even more suspicions about Russia and magnify any new revelations; it might well embroil the White House in a contentious confirmation battle that re-litigates the Comey firing and focuses on the Russia controversy; and if there isn’t a confirmation battle, it will only be because Trump picks someone with a sterling reputation who is pledged to follow Russia wherever it leads. So if this is an attempted cover-up, it will almost certainly back-fire. On the other hand, whatever Trump’s intentions, it is likelier than not to result in a widely respected new FBI director because it’s hard to see anyone else getting confirmed when even some Senate Republicans are suspicious of the Comey firing.
And Lowry adds, if Trump's motivation was to smother media discussion of the Russia investigation, the Comey firing achieved the exact opposite result.
News reports suggest he was upset about the media coverage of Comey and Russia. Well, if he hated it as of a few days ago, he must absolutely loathe it now. Word is that he’s upset with his communications staff. But how were they supposed to better handle this story, when they got extremely short notice of the coming ouster and were fed (assuming they weren’t complicit in it) a cover story about this all being driven by Rosenstein and his memo that appears to have been misleading? As often is the case with Trump, he’s not being ill-served by his underlings so much as by himself.

However, the media coverage has been so overblown as it usually is with all things Trump. As David Harsanyi writes, while McCabe's testimony exposed how laughable the administration's attempts to explain why Trump fired Comey were, McCabe also exposed how much of the media narrative was simply not so.
In fact, watching the interim FBI director sit in front of a Senate committee plainly debunking Trump’s core justification for the dismissal is just another reason to view yesterday’s reaction as needlessly hysterical.

The Acting FBI Director also said that there has been no effort to impede Russia investigation – which was the driving insinuation of virtually all coverage yesterday. Whatever Trumpian reasons the president had for firing Comey, McCabe testified that there has been no obstruction by the administration. And unless Trump names some lackey to shut it down, this will almost surely remain the case.
I guess we'll know if that was the true goal once Trump nominates someone to be the new director. If he nominates someone who has bipartisan confidence and is respected for his/her ability to lead investigations wherever they may lead, we can have more faith that Trump wasn't interested in stalling any investigation into his connections with Russia. If he nominates a partisan crony such as Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani...well, then we'll also know more about Trump's motivations in firing Comey. But the media have to stop combining the two questions concerning Russia and the election. We all know that they interfered in the election with the hacking. The question that has Washington's panties in a knot was whether there was collusion with the Trump campaign with Trump's knowledge. But the media, such as the Associated Press, writes as if these are one and the same issue. Those are separate questions.
McCabe was asked about the FBI’s probe of Russia’s meddling into the presidential election, which encompasses a number of facets that have nothing to do with the president. McCabe answered that such an investigation was “highly significant” – he said nothing about Trump. So the White House’s contention that the Russia investigation was one of the “smallest things” on the FBI’s plate is untrue. As is the assumption that investigation is about Trump.

Second, the acting FBI director told the Senate that he knows nothing about an organizational request for additional resources for Russia investigation. This was a huge story yesterday. A number of major news organizations, relying on scores of anonymous sources, reported that mere days before he was fired Comey had gone to the Justice Department and asked for more prosecutors. This would create a timeline that proves obstruction. Well, McCabe says that the FBI has all the resources it needs. Sarah Isgur Flores, spokesperson at the Department of Justice, denied that Comey has asked for any resources.

Now, it’s possible that Comey made the request without telling anyone, including his top deputy – despite the significance of the investigation–and that the DOJ subsequently lied about it. At the very least, though, this puts New York Times’ breathless reporting into question since it offer no evidence.
Add in the supposed threats of Rod Rosenstein to quit which Rosenstein denied.

So this is what we have: anonymous sources versus people speaking on the record.
The difference, of course, is that both McCabe and Rosenstein have now gone on the record – one of them under oath – to make these claims. On the other hand, the accusations that dominated the frenzied coverage of yesterday were driven exclusively by anonymous sources with agendas. It seems increasingly easy for these people to dictate coverage. Obviously, reporting relies on anonymous sources. But at some point even Trump skeptics have to ask themselves: maybe we’re being played?
Of course, criticizing the media, while always fun, does not absolve Trump and his staff for their actions and inability to put forward a credible explanation.

But if the real goal of Russia in interfering in the election was, as we were told back during the election, to undermine America's faith in our system and democracy, they certainly have succeeded and the media hysteria has helped them out.
It’s one of the many ironies of the furor over James Comey’s firing amid the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign that the ongoing Democratic impeachment-driven uproar actually serves Moscow’s interests.

Because, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley noted Thursday, the intelligence community concluded that the key Russian goal “is to undermine the American public’s faith in our democratic institutions.”

And the “wild speculation” coming from both congressional Democrats and their media allies that President Trump is under criminal investigation does just that.

Grassley said he and top committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein were briefed by Comey last week on the specific targets of the investigation. In his letter to Comey, Trump said the now-ousted director had told him he wasn’t under investigation. Says Grassley: “Sen. Feinstein and I heard nothing that contradicted the president’s statement.”

But because the FBI can say nothing publicly, speculation runs rampant (aided, sigh, by White House missteps and story reversals) that Trump is a target of the probe.

Democrats, predictably, are feeding that frenzy, with visions of impeachment or, at the very least, delegitimizing Trump’s presidency, dancing in their heads.

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Given that Comey had angered everyone and it well have been necessary to replace him, there were still ways to do it better. Charles Krauthammer puts forth a method for how Trump could have done this.
True, this became more difficult after March 20, when Comey revealed that the FBI was investigating the alleged Trump–Russia collusion. Difficult but not impossible. For example, just last week Comey had committed an egregious factual error about the Huma Abedin e-mails that the FBI had to abjectly walk back in a written memo to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Here was an opportunity for a graceful exit: Comey regrets the mistake and notes that some of the difficult decisions he had previously made necessarily cost him the confidence of various parties. Time for a clean slate. Add the usual boilerplate about not wanting to be a distraction at such a crucial time. Awkward perhaps, but still dignified and amicable.

Instead we got this — a political ax murder, brutal even by Washington standards. (Or even Roman standards. Where was the vein-opening knife and the warm bath?) No final meeting, no letter of resignation, no presidential thanks, no cordial parting. Instead, a blindsided Comey ends up in a live-streamed O.J. Bronco ride, bolting from Los Angeles to be flown, defrocked, back to Washington.

Why? Trump had become increasingly agitated with the Russia-election investigation and Comey’s very public part in it. If Trump thought this would kill the inquiry and the story, or perhaps even just derail it somewhat, he’s made the blunder of the decade. Whacking Comey has brought more critical attention to the Russia story than anything imaginable. It won’t stop the FBI investigation. And the confirmation hearings for a successor will become a nationally televised forum for collusion allegations, which up till now have remained a scandal in search of a crime.

So why did he do it? Now we know: The king asked whether no one would rid him of this troublesome priest, and got so impatient he did it himself.

Oh, jeez! In an interview with The Economist, Donald Trump claimed credit for coining the term "priming the pump."
Trump: We have to prime the pump.

Economist: It’s very Keynesian.

Trump: We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?

Economist: Priming the pump?

Trump: Yeah, have you heard it?

Economist: Yes.

Trump: Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.
Merriam Webster begs to disagree.
Perhaps that's why I've been teaching students that term for over 20 years. And then there is this bit of research that Jonah Goldberg dug up.
But fear not. Donald Trump has heard the phrase before – from his own lips. For instance, he used the phrase with Time magazine last year:
And he has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts. Instead, he seems to favor expensive new infrastructure spending and tax cuts as economic stimulus, much like Obama did in 2009. “Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” he says. “So sometimes in order to get jobs going and the country going, because, look, we’re at 1% growth.” The next day, the third-quarter gross-domestic-product estimates would be released, showing an increase of 3.2%, up from 1.4% earlier in the year.

At a rally in Iowa in December of 2016 he said:
We are also going to lower our business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 15 percent. That’s going to be big. Going to prime the pump. Got to prime the pump. Got to get the jobs. Got 96 million people out there. We got to get them going.

A Lexis-Nexis search finds other examples from him and a great many of his surrogates as well.

So, I’m honestly curious. What is the right way to interpret Trump’s statement that he coined the phrase “prime the pump” a few days ago? Did he forget? Was he playing a game with the editors of The Economist? If so, what possible benefit would he get? I’m really interested in knowing what the best possible explanation could be?
So is Trump delusional? Did he just convince himself that he just came up with a phrase he's already used before? Why would he claim that - can he not go through a day without self-aggrandizement?

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Barack Obama is having a very lucrative retirement. He reportedly received $3.2 million to speak for an hour and a half at the Global Food Innovation Summit this week. And he reinforced his message about how we have to reduce our carbon footprints by having an enormous motorcade to get there from the airport.
[F]ootage from the event shows an ostentatious arrival, with police cars, motorbikes, and gas-guzzling armoured SUVs ferrying the ex-Commander in Chief to the event.

Mr Obama was allegedly chauffeured straight from the airport to the £7,100 (€8,400)-a-night Park Hyatt hotel in the city, reportedly with an escort of up to 300 police officers.

The former President’s armoured Chevrolet Suburban has an approximate mileage of just 16 miles per gallon (MPG) - compared to a Vauxhall Astra, which has a fuel economy of at least 46 MPG.