The Russian Caper: Update!

February 17, 2018–Yesterday we saw some of the foot soldiers of the Russian Caper. That op began in 2014. No one knew in advance of this foreign conspiracy to meddle in America’s elections, and since then the nation has been divided among those who believe an influence operation took place, those who thought the reports a smokescreen for some kind of domestic machination, and the “Fake News!” bunch who proclaimed all this a nothingburger. The indictments brought yesterday by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia attest to the investigative efforts of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. It is not any longer reasonable to deny the existence of a plot.

I can’t say I had any more advance knowledge than the next person, but I began writing on the Russian Caper in 2016 while the election campaigns were still underway. I still hold to the theory of the case expressed then: the Russian op started as revenge for U.S. encouragement of political alternatives to Vladimir Putin in the last Russian election. It grew more ambitious as Donald Trump emerged as frontrunner, then candidate, for the Republican Party. Yesterday’s indictment speaks of actual contacts between Russian operatives and “unwitting” members of the Trump campaign organization. That brings into high relief the fact that there had to be such approaches, contacts located in time and geography. To maximize its impact, Moscow needed a degree of American political expertise to aim its sallies most effectively, some modicum of cooperation with a Clinton opponent–make that Trump–to capitalize on the SVR-GRU managers of the caper, and a communications channel to permit advance knowledge and coordination. No doubt the Russians thought gleefully that while carrying out their op they could extract a price from the Americans they were helping–a side benefit of the caper.

In 2016 it appeared to me that the quid pro quo Moscow received was the Trump campaign’s move at the Republican convention that July to get rid of the Russia sanctions part of the Republican party platform. The most likely moment for a Russian offer was when candidate Trump met Russian ambassador Kislyak at a dinner that April, and the July events represented confirmation the Trump forces were on board. After that high level communications could pass between Russian officials and Trump representatives. The set of more than a dozen meetings documented between the sides includes participation on the American side from Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Donald Trump, Jr., Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos. So far we have learned of some Russian foot soldiers and some American “unwittings,” but the higher reaches of this conspiracy are still in the shadows. They will out. Depend on it.

The Russian caper unfolds as Mr. Trump continues his litany of denials. So prolonged has been his song you could make it into a musical. Better, an opera–more gravitas, which Trump certainly needs. Imagine the numbers that could go in this production, lyrics courtesy of the title character in Trump, the Opera! There could be the theme song, “No Collusion!” In Act I, with the primary campaign still in progress, you could have “He’s no Hero–John McCain,” and “Lyin’ Ted, No Energy Jeb.” Up against Hillary in Act II there’s the inimitable “Lock Her Up!” and, perhaps too close to home, “Russia, I Hope You can Find the 30,000 Emails.” If there’s space for a reflective piece on Trump’s pre-political career you could put music to “The Birth Certificate,” and the immortal “Art of the Deal.” And, from that art, the man himself–“I have the best Words,” or “Small Hands.” If there is time we can add “I’m, Like, Really Smart!” As the record unravels on the candidate’s personal behavior the song would be, “Just Locker Room Talk.” On the election we have the dance numbers “Voter Fraud,” and “I Won the Popular Vote.” And Trump in power, Act III, will feature “Drain the Swamp!”–another dance number–“Alternative Facts,” and the climactic “Fake News!”

Quite a show. Too bad it was orchestrated in Moscow and first played St. Petersburg.

United States intelligence officials went to the congressional oversight committees, first in the summer-fall of 2016, to warn of the Russian op. But the CIA had burned its bridges with Congress in its efforts to suppress the Senate investigation of CIA torture, as documented in my  Ghosts of Langleyand the spooks got no traction at all. Equally distressing, the public warnings issued by the Director of National Intelligence with the Department of Homeland Security, and around the transition, by several intelligence agencies together, were so devoid of relevant detail (officials were terrified of revealing “sources and methods”) they actually fueled speculation the Russian caper had been ginned up. Everyone ought to have known better.

Round 2 on “The Memo”

February 10, 2018–If this were Sherlock Holmes we would call it “The Case of the Disappearing Memos.” But it’s today’s America instead, where government regulations can be turned on their heads and run in reverse. –And no one says anything. To recapitulate–in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) the Republican majority and Democratic minority each crafted memoranda on the scandal of the Russian Caper (commented on here on many occasions). The Republicans were ready first, with a paper that essentially smeared the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Horrified Democrats then wrote their own paper to show how and why the Republican essay was a smear job.

We’re talking here about documents that contain classified information. A procedure exists whereby the HPSCI–and its Senate counterpart–can decide on their own to declassify information. About a week ago the Republican memo appeared. HPSCI had used the procedure I mentioned but not in the way it was intended when established forty years ago. The original mechanism provided the committee could vote to release a document and the president would then have five days to express himself yea or nay on its release. If a president kept his silence, the document was released. If the president objected, the committee could then go to the full House (or Senate) for an up or down vote on release. The document would then be declassified or not depending on the result. (You can go to the National Security Archive website, look for my “Electronic Briefing Book no. 596” on the Pike Committee of 1975, and read as much as you want about how this procedure was established–as a safeguard against the executive branch using secrecy to suppress congressional investigation.)

That’s not what happened here. Instead the Republican majority voted along party lines to release their own memo, and acquiesced when the Trump White House took the opportunity to assert the power to edit the document for content on secrecy grounds. As a smear on the FBI, of course, Mr. Trump found nothing to object to and he happily approved release. But the cover letter from White House lawyer Donald McGahn asserted the declassification power mentioned. Democrats on HPSCI then demanded their competing paper be released. I had expected this bid would be defeated at the committee level by adverse vote but the GOP was a little smarter than that–they voted with Democrats to approve release unanimously. Republicans were confident the Trump White House could be depended upon to quash the paper for them. That happened yesterday. We can now rank HPSCI chairman Devin Nunes with the Ghosts of Langley.

McGahn pontificates that Mr. Trump is “inclined” toward release of the Democratic rebuttal if it can be shorn of classified information where, in truth, the president has no authority to audit/edit the content of a document being released by congressional committee vote. 

The HPSCI Republican memo is rapidly sinking out of sight due to its disjointed substance and lack of coherence. The Democratic memo is being sunk deliberately.

How Did Nunes Do It?

February 2, 2018–In June of last year I posted an Electronic Briefing Book at the website of the National Security Archive (No. 596, June 2, 2017) describing in full detail the origin of the House of Representatives rule which Devin Nunes used to get his memo released. I have had the paper re-linked at the Archive website, and a blog piece on the original events will be up shortly on the Archive’s blog, Unredacted. What happened here is that a mechanism designed to prevent the executive branch of government from compromising a congressional inquiry has been used by a politician to have Congress impede an executive branch agency from completing its investigation of the president.

Section 7 of Rule XVLIII, the congressional bylaw, applies to any information. Only a majority vote within the committee is necessary to reveal the information unless the president, in writing, objects. That latter action would activate a detailed process under which there would be a House vote, involvement by House officials, etc. None of these recourses apply in the event of a committee majority vote, which is how Mr. Nunes could, essentially, decide to unilaterally release what amounts to a political smear. The same House intelligence committee majority enabled Mr. Nunes to guarantee that a Democrat-authored rebuttal memorandum cannot see the light of day.

Note that, in his White House reply to Mr. Nunes, presidential counsel Donald F. McGahn, II, cites House clause 11(g) of Rule X as the authority, and asserts a presidential responsibility to classify, declassify, and control access to information. This represents an attempt to undermine the original intent of the congressional rule, which was created to prevent a president from suppressing congressional action in situations where underlying information was secret.

That House Intelligence Memo

January 30, 2018–Wondering how the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) can unilaterally vote to release a classified document? Only time for a short entry today but I can answer that question. –And much as folks deplore the “bad old days” of the 1970s, that’s precisely where the answer lies. In 1975 there were committees in both houses of Congress investigating the activities of United States intelligence. The one in the House was led by New York Democrat Otis Pike. His committee uncovered some embarrassing information about a then-recent crisis in Cyprus, where a U.S. diplomat had used what was called the “dissent” channel to object to how Washington–read secretary of state Henry Kissinger–had behaved in the event. The Pike committee also had a lead on certain information about the October War that showed the United States had known of key Egyptian war preparations but done nothing with the knowledge–another blot on Kissinger’s copybook.

The Pike Committee decided it would release this information to the public. President Gerald R. Ford, pushed by his staff (including Dick Cheney) resisted. The Justice Department threatened the committee. The intelligence agencies stopped supplying documents to the committee. Pike’s counter-threat was to subpoena the information. Inside government, Kissinger advised Ford to resist handing anything over, even if it meant a court case going to the Supremes. But both White House and CIA lawyers warned that the courts would find (1) Congress had an unquestioned right to investigate; (2) laws assured its access to any information necessary for an investigation, (3) that the Pike Committee was a duly constituted entity of the Congress, and (4) That having a Court decision establishing this precedent on the books, and enforcing subpoenae against the intelligence agencies, was something the president did not want. The Ford White House caved, resuming the supply of material to the Pike staff under the pretext the documents were being “loaned.”

Ironically it later developed that Henry Kissinger had leaked information on both the matters he sought to keep from the Pike Committee.

After this experience the Pike Committee recommended language for an oversight committee which might succeed it–the HPSCI–for the committee to unilaterally release a secret document. Lawyer Burt Wides takes credit for the provision. The Senate, whose Church Committee had conducted its own investigation and had had trouble with the executive on releasing a report on CIA assassination plotting, included a similar provision in the bylaws for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

These are not obscure or arcane provisions, as some newspapers are saying right now. Not long ago the Senate intelligence committee acquiesced in putting its investigative report on torture through a conventional declassification process instead of using the unilateral release mechanism. Read more about that in my book The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of DarknessThat was a concession to bipartisan practice. In today’s controversy over the HPSCI unilaterally releasing a Republican memo accusing the FBI we have the HPSCI exploiting the secrets release rule for a political purpose. You can read a detailed analysis of the Pike Committee’s secrecy crisis, including the relevant documents, in the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book no. 596, from June 2017.

Marc Raskin Acquitted, He Wanted a Retrial

January 7, 2018–I want to mark the passing of Marcus G. Raskin, a long-term fighter for progressive causes, who died at home on Christmas Eve. The teaser in the headline refers to a famous passage in the political struggle against the Vietnam war, where the Draft was the vehicle the United States used to fill many of the ranks of those sent to the front. Under U.S. law it was a requirement (mostly honored in the breach) to have on your person a “Draft Card” that identified you and specified your status in terms of being called up for military service. The card was considered property of the United States. While the possession clause was largely ignored, deliberately destroying a Draft Card was a definite no-no.  Needless to say, destroying Draft Cards soon became a symbol of resistance to this arbitrary system of filling the armed forces. Marc Raskin and four colleagues–the famous baby doctor Benjamin Spock, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., chaplain of Yale University; author Mitchell Goodman, and grad student Michael Ferber–were put on trial in Boston for burning Draft Cards (most, but not all, their own). All the participants except Raskin were convicted at trial (overturned on appeal). Raskin was acquitted. He wanted a retrial!

That was a time when principles were real and citizens deemed civil disobedience necessary to rein in an increasingly imperial presidency. I’ve wondered what Marc thinks about the times through which we live today, but it’s been increasingly difficult for him to express himself. I last saw him about eight months ago and just held his hand. To the earth we all shall return.

But Marcus Goodman Raskin accomplished a number of important things in his time among us. His greatness was prefigured at an early age. His father a plumber, his mother a seamstress, Marc became a concert pianist–good enough for Juilliard, to attend which he dropped out of high school. But Marc was always about convictions. He began in piano at age 4, but at 16, in 1950, Marc decided the nervous tension, even playing just for himself, was too much. Abandoning the piano–though he took a year off after college, in Italy extending his talent–Raskin decided to attend the University of Chicago. There he ran into the future composer Philip Glass, then a student, who asked his help learning the piano. Convinced he saw talent and yearning, Raskin became a coach and helped Glass develop a real technique.

Yet it was in the nation’s service that Marc Raskin really achieved his metier. A Milwaukee boy, Raskin joined the staff of Wisconsin congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1958. By then Marc had a doctorate in jurisprudence from Chicago. Kastenmeier joined the Liberal Project Group in Congress, an informal circle that commissioned essays, then met to discuss them, attempting todevise policies that were consistent with liberal thinking and solved real problems. Raskin took notes. When the group published a book, The Liberal Papers, Marc contributed an essay and help edit others. That brought wider attention.

When John F. Kennedy won the 1960 elections he needed to staff his administration, including the National Security Council (NSC) staff, as head of which he appointed McGeorge Bundy. Raskin and JFK had shaken hands once, at some congressional function; but Carl Kaysen–Bundy’s right-hand man, and David Riesman, a Harvard social science guru, knew Raskin better. They pushed for him. Kennedy also wanted to build a bridge to liberal Democrats like Kastenmeier. As a result Marcus Raskin was offered a post on the NSC staff.

Raskin’s office was in the Old Executive Office Building, next to one the Mac Bundy occupied before he moved across to the West Wing. Marc’s portfolio was to help with Congress, the United Nations, disarmament issues, and later added the UN trusteeship in Micronesia, Albania and Yugoslavia. Introducing Raskin to his then-NSC deputy, Walt Rostow, Mac Bundy had said, “Marc is going to be our conscience.”

But while these were formal roles, nothing kept Raskin from commenting where he thought some point needed to be made. Early after his inauguration President Kennedy presided over the disastrous CIA invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. That travesty was naturally followed by multiple inquiries, post-mortems, and investigations. All of them included CIA participants among the principals. The most important one, the “Taylor Board”–named for General Maxwell D. Taylor, to whom JFK had taken an especial liking–included CIA director Allen W. Dulles. On May 1, 1961 Raskin wrote a memo to Mac Bundy: “It seems to me that we should have some other kinds of people on the panel which is presently looking into the operation of the CIA.” Marc warned that the inquiries were going to take an operational or tactical view–seeking to optimize techniques, not asking questions like “What is the relation of an outfit like the CIA to a free society?” “How is such an organization going to be held accountable?” “How do we make sure that so-called para-military outfits don’t so completely change the nature of our society and what we want to do internationally that we wind up being as unstable as the Weimar Republic?”

All good questions. All very uncomfortable. None likely to endear Marc to his White House colleagues. Pressures for conformity were great.

Another 1961 episode, quite notorious, concerned U.S. nuclear war plans. There was a terrible moment when the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the president on the scenarios in the nuclear plan, responses  that would automatically go into effect if Kennedy ever approved a nuclear strike. The generals estimated that Russia and China would be devastated and the world suffer between 325 and 525 million deaths. Kennedy was horrified. He demanded changes. Today Dan Ellsberg is taking credit for sparkplugging reductions in the war plan that took China, at least, off the target list, but the truth is that the push for more limited options came from right inside the White House. There was a basic national security policy paper (BNSP) drafted at RAND in the fall of 1961, but it could be read either to justify big war or limited strikes. A rewrite at the Pentagon, where the issue of limited options became confused with the option of an early, counterforce strike to disarm the Russians, sounded to Raskin like a formula to start a nuclear war. Raskin had been attending all kinds of meetings on this matter in his capacity of NSC specialist on disarmament. Carl Kaysen had headed the White House team, and the latest rewrite of the BNSP paper sounded like Kaysen had had a hand in it. Raskin went to Kaysen to object that the BNSP looked like a first-strike war plan. Kaysen demurred. Raskin then asked how Kaysen thought the United States was different from the people who had loaded the boxcars for Auschwitz. After that day the two men hardly spoke again.

Meanwhile The Liberal Papers actually appeared in print, and though Mac Bundy had induced Raskin to take his name off of it, it came out that Marc had had a lot to do with that project. To get Raskin out of the White House he was packed off to Geneva, to the U.S. delegation at negotiations for General and Complete Disarmament, which had largely devolved into a propaganda forum where the communist bloc and the West hurled charges at each other. A year of that soured Marc Raskin on changes from within the government, and that is when he joined up with a similarly disillusioned ex-State Department fellow, Richard J. Barnet, to create the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

Most of the obituaries and commentaries on Marc Raskin have centered on the IPS years. That’s fine, because IPS really became lodestar–for Raskin and Barnet both. But these early stories are important because they show the man of principle. I’ll tell one more story. It’s about the Pentagon Papers. By 1970 Dan Ellsberg–like Marc himself–was fighting against the Vietnam war. Ellsberg had tried to get Congress to take heed of the revelations in these important documents. Importantly, he had taken them to senators like J. William Fulbright and George S. McGovern. On The Hill, congresspeople were sympathetic to Ellsberg but then never followed through. That’s when Ellsberg began approaching the media. He also went to IPS. The Institute did not get a full set of the Pentagon Papers but it got enough of the 7,000 pages to fill a banker’s box–and the IPSers did not sit on them. In early 1972 they hit with a book in preparation from before the big scandal broke in June 1971. Raskin joined with Barnet and Ralph Stavins to publish Washington Plans an Aggressive War. The title was a play on the Nuremberg Principles, for Germans and Japanese had been sent to prison–and the gallows–for planning and waging “aggressive war” in World War II. Marc’s piece in the book dealt with Congress permitting the erosion of its power, the presidency dangerously out of control, and–following his passion for disarmament– the possibilities for a political system loosely based on the post-World War II measures to demilitarize Japan (in particular) and Germany.

To the end Marc Raskin remained a man of principles. The contrast to today’s enablers in the White House, from John Kelly to “Appropriate Dereliction” McMasters, are palpable. America needs more like Raskin, not like them.

White House Ghosts

December 26, 2017–Our latest reporting suggests that the Ghosts have moved into the White House. That is, according to today’s Washington Post, by the end of the Obama administration the president had already signed a Memorandum of Notification–the kind of document used to authorize a United States covert operation–for the intelligence services to employ active countermeasures against the Russian Caper, Moscow’s hacking of U.S. politics and the American election in 2016.

The new reporting (Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe, “KREMLIN’s TROLLS BESET WEB AS U.S. DITHERED,” Washington Post, December 26, 2017) shows an extended example of one web troll identified as a Russian source, ties that pseudonym to a range of posts fronted to many online outlets, from Counterpunch to Veterans Today, and outlines the chronology of Washington’s grudging choice to begin countermeasures. The notification memo, more frequently called a “presidential finding,” put the CIA and NSA and their brethren on point by early 2017. The Obama National Security Council (NSC) staff director for intelligence briefed his successor, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, along with intelligence community officials. H.R. McMaster, the general who ended up as national security adviser after the flame-out of Donald J. Trump’s first pick, Michael Flynn, even agreed with the policy, although he suspected Cohen-Watnik –Flynn’s man–and soon got rid of him. But McMaster quickly locked horns with Trump homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, over who had charge of the cyber portfolio. The net result was that actions have to be justified by new presidential findings–and those have never been issued. President Trump, with his alternate “there’s no scandal here,” and “anybody could have hacked” stances, is an obstacle to meaningful action. So nothing is being done.

In my book The Ghosts of Langley the “ghost” serves as metaphor for the kind of character whose example or behavior her successors want to avoid because inappropriate, mistaken, or worse. Earlier you could have argued that Ghosts fueled the reluctance to act of the Obama White House. The Trump White House has now added bureaucratic infighting to the list of excuses for inaction. Clearly the Ghosts are strong at the White House. –And the Russian trolls are still out there.

McMaster the Enabler

December 16, 2017–Evidence is mounting that Harold Raymond McMaster, the Army lieutenant general who currently functions as national security adviser for President Donald J. Trump, is doing the nation no favors sticking around. Previously I had written that McMaster is guilty of the same “dereliction of duty” as that charge he hurled, in a book by that name, at the Vietnam-era military brass facing President Lyndon Johnson. Now McMaster parrots the senseless foreign policy antics of Mr. Trump and even tries to represent them as coherent and clever strategy.

I’ve not got much time today but I wanted to underline press reporting that has given us a fresh example of the dangers of an unchecked Harold McMaster. Yesterday’s Washington Post carried a remarkable piece of reporting from Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, and Philip Rucker (“How Trump’s Pursuit of Putin Has Left the U.S. Vulnerable to the Russian Threat,” December 15, 2017). In their story the journalists report an incident involving the National Security Council staff director for Russia and how Mr. Trump dissed her in a key White House encounter. At a meeting held preparatory to a Trump telephone call to Vladimir Putin the president treated the staff director, Fiona Hill, as a secretary, throwing a marked up memorandum at her and telling her to rewrite it. When Hill did not immediately rush away to do that, President Trump apparently yelled at her. When Hill did leave, General McMaster followed her out of the room and added to the hurt with an extra dollop of criticism.

How ’bout that? Harold McMaster curries favor with the president, his boss, by dumping on his own staff. Rather than defending Fiona Hill as a professional expert and reminding Mr. Trump of the boundaries of proper behavior, The Derelict imitates his master and digs the hole deeper. Is it any wonder the national security policy of this administration has descended into incoherence? In my book The Ghosts of Langley  I argue that, at the CIA, characters who furnish bad examples, or demonstrate behaviors to avoid, become “ghosts” to their successors. It’s looking very much like Harold McMaster is entering that spirit world. So far, in deference to his status as an Army general officer, observers have been reluctant to call a spade a spade. Watch out!

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.