The Derelict Is At It Again: McMaster at the Reagan Library

December 6, 2017–In Simi Valley the thing folks still talk about is how Air Force One made it into the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Granted, the aircraft was not the one which President Reagan got approved and funded on his watch, it was the older Boeing 707 version that had served presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, not the plush Boeing 747 version of today. The newer aircraft would hardly have made it through the suburban avenues, much less up the steep, winding two-lane hillside road that is the only approach into the Library. Even the older aircraft had to be taken apart to make it.

They still talk about Air Force One. I don’t think that will happen for the visit of Harold Raymond McMaster, today’s national security adviser, who spoke at the Reagan Library last weekend at an event billed as the Reagan National Defense Forum. I’ve written before about McMaster as practitioner of the same sort of “dereliction of duty” of which he accused the Vietnam-era generals in his book of that name. General McMaster, as security adviser, is acting as enabler and defender of President Donald Trump’s fractured foreign policy. At the Reagan Library McMaster continued in his now-standard mode–he sought to lay claim to the mantle of Reagan, proposing Trump as the Gipper’s true descendant. Saying the nation must design its policy to counter Russia and China, reclaim confidence in American values, and align diplomatic, military, intelligence, and law enforcement [read immigration] policies, McMaster the Derelict dug his hole deeper. For myself, I had little use for the Reagan national security policy at the time–it sought unbridled military superiority, carried out a weapons build up that caused domestic economic problems, nearly triggered a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and was confrontational across several continents in conducting aggressive covert operations. However, the Reagan program was a policy–that is, the different elements were planned, fit together, and corresponded to some concept of overall strategy. It would be a mistake–one Harold McMaster is even now making– to represent Trump national security policy as following a strategy in any way. For example, his “America First” stance is antithetical to the nation’s longest, closest alliances. His pro-Russia and pro-China rhetoric is contradictory to the proposition that forces must be built to defend against Russia and China. Trump’s opening to Saudi Arabia is fueling instability on the Arabian peninsula and in the Persian Gulf which it has long been U.S. policy to avoid. Trump’s Syria policy is incoherent altogether. In Africa and Asia there is no policy worth the name. The Afghan war is being pursued in a brainless fashion while the Afghan government–our Afghan government–disintegrates before our eyes. Then Mr. Trump makes nice with a rightist Indian government which hates Pakistan, with whom we have to work in order to fight the Afghan war. And, if national security is being designed to counter Russia and China, what is Trump doing kicking up an unnecessary conflict with North Korea where he wants Russia and China to help us resolve it. To garnish this pastiche of disparate elements with the name “strategy” is, in a word, to create fake news.

I have been on Reagan’s Air Force One. It is the centerpiece of the largest gallery in the museum portion of the facility. The plane is not all that impressive after all, given the inherent limitations of a Boeing 707 fuselage. What is truly remarkable is the planning effort necessary to get that thing to this place and then build a museum gallery to hold it. That kind of planning is not happening in the Trump administration today. Their hopes for a bigger, plusher -747 amount to a bunch of component parts littered about on factory floors. The problem is that we’re not really talking about inert objects. Trump’s arbitrary diktats and vertiginous changes of direction will ultimately lead to complete immobility and confusion. –And Derelict McMaster helped make it happen.

Flynn Flips : The Art of the Deal

December 2, 2017–Yesterday General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to counts of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when being questioned on aspects of the Russian Caper, which readers of this space will know we have been following since the summer of 2016. Flynn’s confession–and commitment to turn state’s evidence in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller–give us a suitable moment to take stock of developments.

The conventional wisdom in scandals like this has long held that the coverup is worse than the crime. Although I had some qualms about that formula, which emerged during the Watergate affair–which, after all, represented an attempt to determine the course of a presidential election–I think the Russian Caper challenges conventional wisdom even more. This time we have not only the political manipulation but an effort to benefit from the influence and actions of foreign states. That both contravenes United States law but may turn out to amount to espionage–high treason. Of course the coverup is bad–Mike Flynn will be just the tip of the iceberg–and it has directly involved the president. (Until very late in Watergate, Richard Nixon managed to keep the president’s hand hidden.) By his own admission, President Donald J. Trump fired FBI director James Comey for purposes of squelching investigation of the Russia Caper. Trump is also revealed to have intervened with congressional authorities in both the House and the Senate for favorable actions, including shutting down their own investigations of the Caper. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is by now neck deep in dubious refusals to answer legally justified questions and in outright perjury. Various officials in the Trump White House are far out on thin limbs in parroting Trump’s “there’s no there there” rhetoric, which every day seems more transparently false.

Mike Flynn’s flip cracks the ice. Expect to see even more Trump officials hiring lawyers–and lining up to make deals of their own. Nothing that has emerged so far refutes the theory of the case advanced here last year : the Trump campaign signaled Russia it was open to Russia’s assistance. General Flynn himself was one of the emissaries. A crucial waving of the hands, if not a full scale pow wow, took place in April 2016 at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. June meetings between Donald Trump Jr. plus senior campaign officials and new Russian emissaries conveyed illustrative examples of help. In July the Trump campaign signaled back by working to weaken the Republican Party platform on sanctions against Russia. On at least two occasions–promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton at the time of the June meeting, and when asking Russia to find “Hillary’s emails,”–Mr Trump suggested he had some personal knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes. By now the documented instances of Trump campaign contacts with the Russians have reached nearly a dozen.

The art of Trump’s deal was to have kept himself away from touching elements of the political manipulation. But in the coverup his fingerprints are everywhere–in tweets, declarations, demonstrable falsehoods, actions, and so on. It is regrettable that the Republican Party has stooped so low, and abandoned its long-held principles, to curry favor with this man.

Who IS that Masked Man?

November 24, 2017–Donald J. Trump continues to inspire caricature even as we struggle to describe and understand him. Stuffed with turkey and pie as I am–and I understand Mr. Trump yesterday did not manage more than to hand out sandwiches–I don’t believe I could come up with a fresh description today. But I found this recently, and it works very well: “He was nervous, high-strung, and mercurial. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, he would threaten and posture, playing the warlord who would lead his nation into battle; later he would take it all back. Military and civilian officials who worked with him learned never to rely on the decisions he announced off the cuff; there had been too many false alarms.

“The accounts . . . show an undisciplined and inconsistent figure, on the childish side, emotionally taut, often on the verge of breakdown, broadly ignorant but with no hesitation about making unqualified announcements about any number of matters about which he knew nothing. Egotistical and inclined to megalomania, he often spoke and even acted as if he were an absolute ruler.” Sound like Donald Trump? Yes. But–that was the late, great historian David Fromkin, writing about Kaiser Wilhelm II before World War I. Yet Wilhelm had been a breach birth, physically crippled by the loss of one arm, with observers speculating he had suffered brain damage from loss of oxygen during that precarious birthing. There has to be a different explanation for Donald Trump.

For more on the troubles U.S. intelligence agencies face in the Age of Trump read Ghosts of Langley, my book on how the CIA broke free of accountability.

Is John F. Kennedy a CIA Ghost?

November 21, 2017–On the eve of the fifty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy this question is worth asking. I have a book out right now called The Ghosts of Langley,  in which I use the metaphor of a ghost to signify a character whose example, for good or ill, stands out so prominently that successors take their cues from her or him, trying to emulate or to avoid the same sorts of behaviors. Langley in the title, of course, is the geographical location of Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, and my metaphoric ghosts are from the CIA, highlighting an agency in its 70th year. But there’s no reason why the ghost couldn’t reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As a matter of fact there is also no reason why President Kennedy cannot also be a CIA ghost. His claim to be a spirit flows from his zealous pursuit of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In The Strategy of Peace, his political testament book working up to the 1960 presidential campaign, Mr. Kennedy lamented that the United States had for so long supported Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and speculated that Castro might have acted differently had he been received more enthusiastically in Washington. In actuality just a few months after Kennedy’s declaration President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a CIA plan to overthrow Mr. Castro, one accepted by Kennedy when he entered office, and which led to the Bay of Pigs disaster. But rather than giving up the ghost, JFK redoubled U.S. efforts to depose Mr. Castro.

This piece of history has President Kennedy acting through the CIA in a top secret project called MONGOOSE. It is usually passed over by history with a few sentences about CIA assassination plotting, or the episode where one MONGOOSE infiltration team almost triggered war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the Cuba program went way beyond that–and Jack Kennedy stood at the center of it. Journalist Tad Szulc and Senator George Smathers both had conversations with Kennedy where the president mentioned assassination. Szulc went off and actually discussed a plan with some Cuban exiles. Kennedy showed his concern over the CIA program by creating the “Special Group (Augmented),” a unit of the interagency panel that approved covert operations whose function was specifically to monitor MONGOOSE. This device the president used to put his brother Robert, then the attorney general, in position to oversee CIA action. Kennedy was never satisfied with the pace or progress of MONGOOSE. Prodded for something more aggressive, the CIA crafted a “Phase II” plan in 1962. That was still not enough. Later in 1962 came Phase II Plus. The Cuban Missile Crisis forced JFK to rethink his approach, and afterwards Kennedy dismantled the CIA unit, Task Force W, responsible for the covert operation. But that meant nothing. President Kennedy actually elevated Cuba covert planning to a higher level of the National Security Council, an NSC Standing Group, where Cuba discussions focused during 1963. That summer the NSC Standing Group approved a whole new Cuba plan. In the meantime Langley had created a fresh unit, the Special Affairs Staff, to carry out the anti-Castro operations. Its deputy chief was the same individual who had been deputy to the chief of Task Force W.

Just ten days before his murder in Dallas, President Kennedy personally met with his CIA Cuba team, heard a full briefing on the anti-Castro program, and approved the next set of targets for exile raids. Looking at the anti-Castro operations journalist George Crile once called them “The Kennedy Vendetta,” and he was right.

In the years since Jack Kennedy’s death there have been a plethora of theories, conspiracy theories, speculations, and plain explanations for why JFK was assassinated. They show why, at a certain level, Kennedy is a Ghost of Langley. One theory is that Castro reached out and retaliated for the CIA’s murder plots against him. That is largely speculation–the CIA had a dedicated counterintelligence operation it ran against the Cuban DGI and G-2, and had both Miami and Mexico City wired for sound. The FBI had an even more intense program. They recorded reactions to Kennedy’s death but no preparations for an attempt against him. Another theory is that the CIA murdered the president. That seems unlikely. Yet another is that it was the Cuban exiles, furious at their betrayal at the hands of Kennedy and the CIA. The exiles were not aware of the inner workings of JFK’s intense vendetta against Castro. Then there is the Mafia, said to be  enraged their Havana clubs and hotels had been nationalized without a U.S. response. Lee Harvey Oswald, the putative assassin, was also acutely aware of Kennedy’s Cuba policy.

I shall leave it to Kennedy assassination historians to unravel the skeins of all these threads. There are two important points to carry away: First, all these threads revolve around CIA operations from one side or the other–Kennedy as a Ghost of Langley. Second, all the CIA assassination plotting that the Rockefeller Commission and Church Committee uncovered and investigated in the middle 1970s–all of it ended with Kennedy. Presidents after John F. Kennedy never involved themselves, or the CIA, in assassination planning. Even Ronald Reagan, who called Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega a “dictator in sunglasses,” and ordered the CIA out to mine Nicaraguan harbors, never entertained any plan to murder the Sandinista commandante. Subsequent presidents took a lesson from the Kennedy experience. Ghosts of Langley.

CIA Gunslinger: Bob Eatinger Learned His Tricks Early

November 7, 2017–Mentioned here in passing ten days ago, CIA lawyer Robert J. Eatinger, Jr. has been at the heart of agency business for a very long time. It looks as if Eatinger learned his tricks very early. The counselor, for those who are unaware, figured as a major figure within the CIA Counterterrorist Center in the 2005 destruction of the notorious videotapes documenting the torture of captives held by the agency. As the CIA’s acting general counsel from 2009 on he rode herd on the CIA’s response to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s (SSCI) investigation of the agency’s detainee interrogation program, with which he had been intimately familiar at the time as a Counterterrorist Center lawyer. In fact the SSCI chairwoman has said on the floor of the Senate that Mr. Eatinger’s name appears in her committee’s investigative report more than 1,600 times. You can read much more about him in my book The Ghosts of Langley.

Late in 2013, with the CIA actively dragging its feet on declassifying the SSCI report, Counsellor Eatinger spoke at an American Bar Association panel meeting on national security law. “Because you can do it,” Eatinger declared, doesn’t mean you should . . . That’s what we spend our time defining to the director.” Sounds quite responsible. But less than two months later, as detailed in The Ghosts of Langley Mr. Eatinger was telling the director that the CIA would be obstructing justice if it did not recommend the Justice Department investigate the Senate Intelligence Committee on criminal charges of espionage–this after Eatinger’s CIA monitors of the Senate investigation had been caught hacking into SSCI computers.

In 2009 Robert Eatinger, along with the CIA’s then-acting general counsel and another agency lawyer, figured in another legal disaster, a suit in which a former Drug Enforcement Agency operative accused the CIA of eavesdropping. Federal judge Royce C. Lambeth found that the agency lawyers, Eatinger among them, had withheld evidence about the CIA officer involved. The plaintiff walked away with a $3 million settlement.

Now, the release of formerly secret records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy reveals a new side to Bob Eatinger. The lawyer had gone to work at the CIA Office of General Counsel (OGC) in September 1991. Not long afterwards the Oliver Stone movie JFK garnered so much attention for its controversial charges of conspiracies against the president that Congress passed–and President George H. W. Bush signed–a law empowering a blue ribbon Assassination Records Review Board to examine and make its own decisions on the declassification and release of documents relating in any way to Kennedy’s murder.

Then-CIA director Robert Gates approved a policy of full responsiveness to the Records Board investigators. The inquiry turned into the widest review of CIA covert operations until the SSCI torture inquiry. The CIA made Robert Eatinger its point man on all matters related to the Kennedy Records Board. The attorney’s first excursion into the rarified world of the assassination records came when he issued OGC policy guidance for agency employees considering appeals to the Records Board to preserve the secrecy of documents. The December 14, 1992 instruction found that the law had been tightly constructed and required Langley’s cooperation. Spooks had to apply a balancing test even before developing arguments why a document could be kept secret. There were pretty tightly circumscribed grounds for the appeal to secrecy.

After that promising beginning the secrecy mavens at Langley walked it all back. The CIA successively interposed more and more objections. –To searching certain categories of records, to revealing the names of agents or even agency officers, to admitting that the CIA has “stations” in foreign countries, to releasing basic data on agency organization, to admitting there had been telephone taps and photographic monitoring of the Russian and Cuban embassies in Mexico City, to giving up histories of the Mexico City station and the one in Miami, to documents in the files on Lee Harvey Oswald and Yuri Nosenko, more. Bob Eatinger absorbed the coloration of the CIA footdraggers. In April 1993 the lead attorney recommended options for excluding records of CIA brass wrangling with Kennedy assassination matters that the agency had been ordered to give up in a lawsuit. In May 1993 Eatinger recommended that Langley withhold from the Records Board anything about specific Americans surveilled by the notorious Project MHCHAOS, which had aimed directly at Americans. In November 1993, when the Kennedy Board discovered that a Cuban exile leader, prosecuted in the late 60s, had actually been arrested by a man on the CIA payroll, the General Counsel’s office wanted advance word if the assassination investigators got near that fact. In January 1994 Eatinger advised CIA personnel to stonewall on MHCHAOS data for Americans abroad, extending his previous advice. In November 1995 Robert Eatinger would be reassigned as a line counselor for the agency operations directorate. By then, it looks like, he knew all the tricks.

New Kennedy Assassination Papers

October 26, 2017--Today the National Archives is supposed to release the final tranche of papers reviewed back during the period from 1992 to 1998 by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Board. As the result of a law passed in 1992, the Board, composed of prominent citizens and historians appointed by Congress, on the one hand, and the president on the other, enjoyed exceptional latitude in what it could release. The Board itself had the power to declassify documents. That reversed the usual situation, where people apply to government agencies for the latter to release material. The CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and other haggled with the Board to keep stuff secret. Sometimes the Board agreed, sometimes it didn’t. Most of the material was released, with some deletions, in the 1990s.

Documents the Board agreed to hold back were put into a basket to be released 25 years on–that is the benchmark we reach today. The National Archives and Records Administration made a start at the task over the summer, putting out the first of hundreds of thousands of documents. Today is the moment of suspense for the rest.

I expect the Kennedy documents will contain big piles of information about Lee Harvey Oswald, the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and issues surrounding President Kennedy’s security. They will also contain a great deal about the Soviet spy Yuri Nosenko, who defected to the United States claiming to have special information about Oswald. Because the Records Board had a wide jurisdiction it also looked into CIA covert operations, especially those aimed at Cuba’s Fidel Castro, which I covered most recently in my book The Ghosts of Langley (The New Press).

Over the next days and weeks you should expect to see some of the posts here focus on what we learn from the new Kennedy Board documents. Clearly historians will be grappling with this material for decades to come, but at least you’ll get a whiff of what’s new.

What the CHICAGO TRIBUNE Case Means Today

October 25, 2017–Over at the website for the National Security Archive I am today posting an “electronic briefing book” that samples the grand jury records, now unsealed, of the Roosevelt administration’s 1942 attempt to prosecute the Chicago Tribune under the Espionage Act. In today’s superheated atmosphere where presidential acolytes and the president himself speak of pulling the licenses of broadcasting networks, or firing reporters who write what they don’t like, the Tribune case holds special meaning.

You can amble among the records at your leisure but here is a brief summary: In June 1942 the United States engaged Japan in a naval battle off Midway Island in the Pacific. Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Navy codebreakers (covered in my 1995 book Combined Fleet Decoded) the Americans knew the Japanese plan and their fleet organization. Admiral Chester Nimitz laid a trap for the adversary and, in the ensuing battle, the most important Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. This ranks among the decisive battles of World War II. A Chicago Tribune reporter, Stanley Johnston, was on another Navy vessel returning from the South Pacific, and he saw information taken from a Nimitz message that named the Japanese warships and detailed their task organization. When Johnston arrived on the U.S. west coast he wrote the article the Tribune published. The newspaper’s editor disguised the source by datelining the piece “Washington,” and attributing it to “naval intelligence.” The Navy, furious, immediately began an investigation. President Roosevelt, who had once been a top Navy official and now enjoyed the benefit of the codebreakers’ work, wanted to go after both the journalist Johnston and the newspaper Chicago Tribune. The Justice Department prosecutor assigned to the case actually advised against proceeding. At the behest of FDR and Navy secretary Frank Knox, the attorney general forged ahead anyway. A grand jury was convened in Chicago. The case fell apart as predicted: journalist Johnston had not had a formal requirement to submit his articles to censorship, while the Chicago Tribune’s responsibility was to have censors look at material about U.S. forces, not Japanese ones. Further, the Espionage Act aimed at physical documents, not the information contained in them. The grand jury refused to indict.

In actuality the Tribune case was about what legal experts call “prior restraint”–whether government should have the power to determine what can be said in public discourse, and regulate that by suppressing information it does not like. These are hallmarks of dictatorships. In Nazi Germany a Propaganda Ministry decided what news the public could see and hear. In George Orwell’s 1984 the “Ministry of Truth” did the same thing. In America, the Constitution features a Bill of Rights and the very First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. Those First Amendment rights were further confirmed in 1971 when the Nixon administration tried to enforce a prior restraint against the New York Times and Washington Post, which had begun printing their reporting on the Pentagon Papers.

Today we live in an era where too many, starting with the president, churn out “fake news.” Opinion polls show a disturbing percentage of Americans in favor of actions–like pulling broadcast licenses–that would ostensibly curb fake news. Of course, the problem is who decides what is fake? Only a Ministry of Truth. That is not admissible, yesterday, today or tomorrow. There is no substitute for a well-informed citizenry, and citizens have an obligation to decide for themselves what meaning lies in an issue. The desire not to make that effort, to rely upon potted news, is what opens the door to fakery. One thing that has, for the most part, disappeared from American schools is civics class. Schools used to teach the Constitution, and government, and rights. We equipped citizens for the challenges of interpreting the news around them. In my current book The Ghosts of Langley I write at length about abuses of the CIA torture program in the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Imagine if there had been a Ministry of Truth deciding what we could know about these outrages. Lets get those civics classes back!

 

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf ? –The CIA

October 22, 2017–The Big Bad Wolf, in this case, is the set of documents related to the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, long kept secret, which by law must be released–declassified in full–by a date certain that is coming later this week. The Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, passed in 1992, provided a 25-year extra shield for those documents that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and others could convince a board were so sensitive and so secret they should continue to be classified. That protection runs out this week. There is a narrow exception provided in the law for agency heads to appeal to the president for continuation of secrecy.  Yesterday in a tweet, Donald J. Trump declared that he was going to open the files. With typical Trumpian two-facedness the president made that declaration “subject to the receipt of further information.”

By several accounts CIA director Mike Pompeo has been lobbying Prresident Trump almost daily to keep up the secrecy. What’s so secret? Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter who has written about the Warren Commission investigation of Kennedy’s assassination, provides a fascinating clue. As reported by Ian Shapira in today’s Washington Post, Shenon believes CIA is especially concerned to keep secret papers written in the 1990s. Of course, Kennedy’s murder took place in 1963. The various permutations of evidence, and chains of logic bearing on the CIA, the FBI, Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassination, and the rest have been burbling around for years, even decades. In the 1990s Langley–the CIA–sought extra secrecy for its operations against Fidel Castro, in Mexico and Central America, it’s private knowledge of what Cuban exile plotters were up to, and so on. Langley’s paladins fought hard–the Kennedy Records Board could hardly get the agency to admit there was such a thing as a “station.” Ultimately Langley conceded the existence of several individual ones but burped at admitting the whole.

In 2017 such issues are moot. What are Langley’s concerns about documents originating in the 1990s? Those are the papers that concern CIA’s dealings with the Kennedy Assassination Records Board. The documents show that the agency’s Office of General Counsel initially advised CIA components that they had a statutory responsibility to produce a wide range of records to the Board, which would decide what to open or keep secret. Langley’s fiefdoms, especially the Directorate of Operations balked. Soon the CIA lawyers, gunslingers, were narrowing the scope of their cooperation with a Board that had lawful access to those records. During the later phase of this scorched document policy Langley’s point man in its fight with the Kennedy Board was none other that Robert J. Eatinger, who has recently acquired notoriety in the CIA torture scandal. Eatinger, whose name reportedly was mentioned more than 1,600 times in the Senate torture report, was the person who attempted to get the Justice Department to investigate the Senate for secrecy violations, and who supervised CIA’s countersurveillance operation against the Senate’s own investigators of Langley’s torture program.(Read more in my book The Ghosts of Langley.)

Basic regulation of the secrecy system in the United States is accomplished by presidential regulation. The current authority here is Executive Order 13526 of December 2009. Only a few categories of information qualify for secrecy protection. These include intelligence activities, sources or methods; and cryptography. Information can only be considered for classification if “unauthorized disclosure could reasonable be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security” of the United States. Moreover, no information can be kept secret for the purpose of avoiding embarrassment to an agency or concealing illegal activity. The CIA’s dealings with the Kennedy Board fall precisely into that category.

It is not national security Langley seeks to protect. In 2017 the CIA wants to hide the extent to which it disputed the mandate of a lawfully constituted national board that had the power to open secret records. Plus there is the direct connection, in the person of Robert Eatinger, between that series of events and Langley’s struggle to suppress the Senate torture investigation. These are not security issues, they are fundamentally political. You cannot find national security grounds to justify this secrecy. The Big Bad Wolf of final declassification is barking at the door and the CIA is donning the costume of national security anyway, thinking everyone will fall into line. Don’t be fooled.

 

John Kelly Update

October 22, 2017–John Kelly, the man who forgot his station, abandoning it so as to enlarge the circle of dereliction surrounding Donald J. Trump, has imitated his boss, disappearing from view instead of apologizing to the congresswoman he slandered. Almost needless to say, the White House spokesperson followed up by representing any questioning of Kelly’s outrage as something highly inappropriate. The Trump White House plays politics while pretending it is above challenge. That is not admissible. Here is a short pause to expand on my post on Friday.

Kelly harked back to a childhood when certain things were sacred. Women were “looked upon with great honor.” Ironic today, amid a flood of revelations of powerful men abusing their stations to harass women. And guess what? One of the first, most embarrassing instances occurred when a videotape showed Donald J. Trump literally bragging about exploiting his status to chase women. That man is John Kelly’s boss. The general talked about Life, “the dignity of Life.” As Homeland Security secretary during the months before he went to the White House Kelly showed no dignity at all to the Muslims he sought to keep out of the United States or the Latinos he tried to eject from it. President Trump’s scrawny response to Puerto Rico’s torment by Hurricane Maria also betrays no sympathy for the dignity of Life. Religion? I wouldn’t be the first to say the only religion facing difficulties in America today is Muslim. Gold Star families? It was Donald Trump–again–who picked a fight with the family of Khizr Khan who, like General Kelly, had lost an officer son to the wars of today. Suffice it to say that Donald Trump, the boss, has been battering practically all the things General Kelly laments losing. Yet he joins Trump in heaping opprobrium on an elected representative of the people who simply reflected the hurt felt by a soldier’s wife when the commander-in-chief called–only when prompted by public questioning of his lack of a response to loss–with hard-hearted “condolences.”

One more thing–what was missing from General Kelly’s lamentation? Truth–palpably, since Kelly prevaricated about Representative Wilson’s remarks at a 2015 event. Justice.  –There is no justice at the Trump White House. The American Way–which is not the province of Mr. Trump’s nativist base. Apparently Truth, Justice, and the American Way are not worth lamenting. As I say, the circle of dereliction is widening each day.

Trump White House : Circle of Dereliction Widens

October 20, 2017–John F. Kelly’s tears are real in one sense, but they are also those of a crocodile. Kelly lost a son in the current wars and remained notably reluctant to talk about it–until President Donald J. Trump dragged his chief of staff into yet another of those contrived public squabbles that have become the mainstay of his presidency. Suddenly Kelly is on the White House podium, asserting that President Barack Obama never telephoned him to express the nation’s regrets, extoll Mr. Trump, and condemn Representative Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL) as being “that empty a barrel” as to think a president’s words worth repeating to the public, indeed for sitting in on Trump’s conversation with Myeshia Johnson (whose Ranger husband, Sergeant La David T. Johnson, had been killed in an ambush in Niger), and for breaking the “confidentiality” of the president’s words. Make no mistake about it–this was a political attack.

First off, General Kelly–for he is a general–as a military officer is responsible to civilian control of the armed forces. Congresswoman Wilson represents that civilian control. Kelly multiplied his disrespect in calling her an “empty barrel.” Representative Wilson faced a segment of the American people to be elected. John Kelly has no constituency beyond five officers on a promotion board.

Second, the congresswoman was riding in a car with Mrs Johnson when the president phoned up. The fact Wilson was present when Mr. Trump called had nothing to do with her. Plus Kelly was present with the president when this conversation took place. If it was wrong for Representative Wilson to be there, what do you say for General Kelly?

Third, there was no breach in repeating the president’s words. That is made up from whole cloth. Mr. Trump’s conversations are not–and have never been–secret just because he participated in them. That is the same spurious claim Trump is trying to make for his firing of FBI director James Comey, and identical to the ridiculous position Attorney General Jeff Sessions took at an oversight hearing yesterday. The business of government will grind to a halt if this attitude toward information continues. The president’s words are secret–classified or more–when he speaks of specific national security subjects in council. The secrecy depends on the information, not who said it. The Trump White House’s effort to cloak every aspect of its operations in secrecy will, without doubt, lead to deeper abuses.

All of this was by way of defending Mr. Trump for yet another disastrous performance. He said nothing about the soldiers lost in this African ambush for nearly two weeks. Questioned about it, Trump suggested he had already talked to the families of the deceased–when he had not–and drew a contrast with previous presidents, who he asserted had never done so, then asserted they had rarely done so, then that they may or may not have done so and he was saying only what people had told him. After that is when he got around to calling poor Mrs Johnson, whose name he did not know, nor the name of her husband the soldier man–and his remorse is to say that Sergeant Johnson had known what he was signing up for. That is what John Kelly is defending, and he is doing it by attacking a member of a co-equal branch of government.

On several occasions here we have explored how General H. R. McMaster, who accused the military under a previous president for dereliction of duty–in the United States military a court martial offense–is doing the same thing as Donald Trump’s national security adviser. John Kelly has now joined this crew. These men seem to have forgotten their oath is sworn to the Constitution, not to a man (Trump himself seems equally unaware of this). They function as enablers. You would be right to have a bad feeling about this.