Scaramucci Resigns after Eleven Days

Early this afternoon, President Trump administered the oath of office to his new chief of staff, retired four-star General John Kelley. Very shortly afterwards, the short-but-explosive tenure of White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci came to a (rather shockingly) quiet close. The exact circumstances of whether he tendered his resignation willingly or under duress remain unclear, but it seems safe to assume the latter. The company line– delivered by Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the daily press briefing– is that Scaramucci “felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelley a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.”

While we did not have enough time to get a fully-rounded sense of Scaramucci as a person, that statement does not appear to contain nearly enough vulgarity to have come from his mouth. Besides, the tenacity with which “The Mooch” approached the job would not suggest he considered himself a placeholder– nor would the divorce papers he received from his wife upon accepting the position.

One truly has to wonder about the motivations here, as well as the string of events. Scaramucci accepted the job as Communications Director. Sean Spicer resigns, refusing to work with him. Scaramucci gave his instantly-infamous profanity-filled interview with The New Yorker, where he called Reince Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic” and sent out a tweet accusing the same of leaking White House information. Priebus resigns, and his replacement is announced in John Kelley– who, by all appearances, wanted nothing to do with Scaramucci either, questioning his discipline and credibility. More surprising, perhaps, is that Kelley has enough pull with the President to ensure the removal of a man who seemed, by all accounts, to display all of the “loyalty” Trump requires from his White House staff. Similarly telling is the statement that “all White House advisors” including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Steve Bannon, will report to Kelley. This is exactly the way power should be distributed in the White House, but certainly not the manner in which it had been in the Trump administration to this point.

The onus of controlling the chaos of a White House being torn apart from within by competing factions has, thus, shifted once again. A few days ago, the conversation line was astonishment at the power of Scaramucci in ensuring the removal of both Sean Spicer and Reince Preibus. Now the same conversations are being held about John Kelley. Only time will tell if Kelley proves more capable than his many predecessors in the role of White House cat-herder, but I can say this: I certainly don’t envy him the job.

Meanwhile, President Trump insists that there is “no chaos” in the executive branch, in spite of whiplash-inducing staff turnaround and, at best, minimal success in achieving platform goals. File that under “alternative facts,” I suppose.

Another interesting day comes and goes in the Trump administration, folks.

— This is the ALF, signing off.

[Shameless plug: under the menu, you will now find a link to my brand-new Patreon account. If anyone reading this content finds it informative, amusing, or otherwise useful and wants to contribute a small amount to help me continue my efforts here, I would greatly appreciate it. Along with my everlasting gratitude, you will also receive a promotion and the opportunity to inspire some content– feel free to hop over to the page for details!]

 

 

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Public Response Roundup: Healthcare, Sessions, Trump Jr, Transgender Troops

Hello all,

Since we’ve managed to get through half a day without any major headlines, I thought we’d try a different angle today: examining the public response to the major events of this week and last, particularly among Republicans. There are two good reasons to do this. First, impeachment, removal, and election outcomes all begin in the court of public opinion– Presidents and legislators with high approval ratings do not often find their offices in jeopardy; public opinion, therefore, serves as an important predictor of the future political landscape. Second, because when “Breaking News” is an hourly event, it is difficult to examine events with the level of nuance their gravity demands.

Please note, the events listed here are presented in no particular order.

Healthcare Bill Fails in the Senate:

Susan Collins (D-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (D-AK) are among the only popular GOP Senators returning home this weekend. Both received displays of gratitude at their home airports from constituents carrying signs applauding the death of the repeal attempt.

Meanwhile, the remaining Republican senators should be grateful for majority leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) decision to shorten the August recess– originally for the purpose of continuing work on the ACA repeal. They face ire from right-leaning constituents from both ends of the spectrum: some are furious at their representatives’ failed effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as promised, and many more who are livid that those who claim to represent their interests were attempting to compromise their access to care. In light of the ACA’s jump in approval ratings in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, one can only imagine how pleasant town hall meetings will be for the likes of Mitch McConnell (if he holds any).

Regardless, the majority of Americans recently polled want the GOP to move on from healthcare reform, leaving the ACA intact. It is unclear how many of those view it as a losing battle for republicans versus those who genuinely prefer the current system, but regardless– the people have spoken, and if these legislators wish to keep their jobs in the next election cycle they would do well to listen.

Jeff Sessions:

Intriguingly, in spite of an absolutely contemptuous performance of a testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee a few weeks ago, Jeff Sessions’ stock is rising among the public– or at least those on the right. This is particularly interesting because this particular voting bloc generally does not believe that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in regards to the 2016 election, and yet their support for Sessions is on the rise following recent attacks by the President,  drawn by Sessions’ choice to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.

Sessions’ former colleagues in the Senate have been particularly vocal, suggesting that they will block any Presidential attempt to replace the attorney general. This is one area where liberals and conservatives should agree then: keeping Sessions in his office is the absolute best case scenario for everyone– except those whose illegal acts could be uncovered by Robert Mueller’s investigation. For Republicans, Sessions represents party loyalty and integrity, even if he has little to no influence with the President since igniting his ire. For Democrats, his recusal is the only thing ensuring Mueller maintains his office– Sessions’ replacement would not be recused from the Russian investigation, and would therefore have the full authority to fire Mueller (a promise that one would imagine would have to be made before Trump would even consider nominating a candidate).

So, with Republicans and Democrats on and off of Capitol Hill making it clear that the firing of Sessions would represent a “red line,” and the Attorney General apparently voicing no intent of tendering his resignation, it seems likely he will be maintaining his office for the time being, and this is a good thing.

Donald Trump Junior: 

In spite of the President’s assertions that “almost anyone would have taken” a meeting offering damning information on an opposing candidate from a hostile foreign power as standard presidential election procedure, the public is not convinced: the majority of people surveyed said that the meeting was “inappropriate,” with only 23 percent calling it “appropriate.”

There really is not much to say here: Donald Trump Jr. published evidence that he had colluded with a foreign power to influence our election, and is not presently awaiting trial for treason. That alone should be astonishing.

Transgender Military Service:

In yet another backfiring popularity grab, President Trump’s announcement that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the military in any capacity is also unpopular with most Americans. In a survey performed shortly after the President’s tweets, 58 percent of adults agreed that transgender and gender-non-conforming individuals should have the equal opportunity to serve their country as their cisgender counterparts, with an additional 15 percent having no opinion.

This, too, seems like a no-brainer. The obvious fact that the Constitution guarantees to all people “equal protection under the law” and that any attempt to prevent trans* individuals from serving is a violation of that right aside, the United States military is always attempting to recruit more people into its service. This is tactically ignorant and ethnically abhorrent. Enough said.


So there it is: the Republican establishment as well as the general public are increasingly wary of the President’s agenda. Those who remain loyal to upholding it are behind held accountable by the people they profess to represent. As long as this trend continues, the goals of the left should be fairly easy to attain: primarily, success in the 2018 elections.

— This is the ALF, signing off.

 

Priebus Ouster Severs Final Ties Between White House and GOP Establishment

Shortly before 5pm Eastern time yesterday, Air Force One touched down in Washington D.C. and President Trump took the opportunity to send out a series of tweets prior to deplaning. In under 500 characters, the president announced the end of Reince Priebus’ tenure as White House Chief of Staff and his replacement in General John Kelley, the now-former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Priebus then left the aircraft and, quite literally, rode off into the sunset before Trump emerged to greet the press.

This decision comes on the heels of a shocking interview on Thursday in which newly-appointed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci voiced his desire to “kill all leakers” amidst a truly astonishing slew of profanity, and a tweet from the same suggesting that Priebus was among the alleged “leakers” of unclassified information about the internal workings of the White House. Scaramucci was apparently confident at that time that Priebus would be delivering his resignation shortly– which, according to sources close to the former Chief of Staff, occurred later the same day.

With the recent resignation of Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus– a three term Republican National Committee chair prior to joining the administration– was the last member of the Republican party establishment to hold a significant position in the Trump White House. (One could make the tangental argument that Sarah Huckabee Sanders qualifies, but her father’s political achievements hardly make her an adequate party liaison–to say nothing of her obvious lack of influence within the administration.) It appears that the significance of this is lost on President Trump, who seems to have given near carte-blanche firing authority to a relative political outsider in Scaramucci.  In the same day the Republican Congress failed to pass the signature legislation of their party platform for seven years, the President severed the final tie to his own party’s establishment. While Trump appears quite content for the time being to run the executive branch in a manner that is… unconventional at best, he fails to realize that losing the support of his own party in the midst of an investigation into himself and his campaign would likely represent the death blow to his presidency. Similarly if the concept that party support for his presidency was already tenuous before several failed attempts at legislation, the Russian investigation, and an increasingly disturbing pattern of dangerous rhetoric crossed Trump’s mind before demanding or accepting Priebus’ resignation, it certainly is not apparent in his actions.

Thus, while many are warning that the Trump White House may be on the road to further chaos after losing what some saw as the final grip on sanity in the administration, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact for those of us who support a progressive agenda is that a representative of the Republican party platform in the White House does not represent any sort of saving grace, just a more-familiar evil. One of the most expedient and least destructive paths by which this administration is brought to justice is by the Republican party, in such a way that it is impossible (for anyone who subscribes to facts) to blame Democrats for playing partisan politics. Even if Mueller’s investigation continues through the 2018 election and the Democratic party is able to regain control of one or both houses of Congress, it would still be ideal to have bipartisan support in an impeachment attempt–whether it is procedurally necessary or not.

It is also very much worth noting that the tweet declaring Priebus’ removal came on the heels of Trump’s day trip to Long Island, where he delivered a speech to a group of police officers. In it, he encouraged the officers not to be “too nice” while performing arrests, giving full presidential permission to allow suspects to hit their head while entering a squad car or roll around unsecured in a paddy wagon (the same conditions resulting in the death of Freddie Gray). In a period of growing distrust between police forces and the communities they allege to serve, it is difficult to imagine a more harmful statement from the President of the United States. Worse, his remarks were met with significant applause.

Finally, in other daily news, investigators believe that the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launched by North Korea yesterday had the potential to easily reach Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago, with outer-limit possibilities including New York City and Boston. The world as a whole has condemned this missile test, as it begins to suggest that Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda depicting the destruction of the West could soon have a basis in reality. As a result, the United States has requested an emergency, closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which will likely occur on Wednesday (August 2nd) and involve discussions about a potential response beyond the joint missile launch undertaken by the United States and South Korea yesterday afternoon.

It’s definitely an interesting time, folks. Stay tuned.

— This is the ALF, signing off.

 

Key Points of James Comey’s Senate Testimony

Hello all,

The long awaited event has come and passed: James Comey, the beleaguered former FBI director, gave his voluntary testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. For the benefit of those who did not have three uninterrupted hours to devote to their televisions, I will summarize the main points below.

  • In his capacity as FBI director, James Comey met or spoke privately with Donald Trump–as President-Elect, and then as President–a total of nine times in a period of six months. In contrast, in his years of service under the previous administration, Mr. Comey met privately with President Obama only twice.
  • Contradicting one of President Trump’s prior statements, Comey said that he did not initiate any of these contacts.
  • In one of these meetings, President Trump asked repeatedly for Mr. Comey’s promised “loyalty,” a commitment Comey refused to make. In his mind, this request constituted an attempt to form a “patronage relationship.”
  • Comey began producing memos of his meetings with President Trump from their first one-on-one conversation, because he was “honestly concerned that [Trump] might lie” about the content. He did not make a habit of constructing memos about his conversations with President Obama.
  • Following one of these conversations, Comey asked Jeff Sessions to ensure he and President Trump did not speak alone again– to act, as is his duty as Attorney General, as the appropriate go-between that is meant to exist between the President and the FBI Director.
  • At the time of Comey’s conversations with Trump, he was not, in fact, under direct investigation for colluding with Russia. However, Comey stated today that he is “sure” that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was now investigating the President for obstruction of justice.
  • The subject of at least one of these one-on-one conversations was Michael Flynn– how he was a “good guy,” and how the President “hoped [Comey] could find a way to let [the investigation into Flynn] go.” While this was phrased as a general statement, Comey understood it to be a directive based on the power dynamics in play. He did not, however, say that he felt he was being threatened with termination.
  • Comey was not aware of any recording of these conversations, but consented to– and even invited– their release, if they do exist. He also consented to the release of his memos, both to Robert Muller and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • When President Trump tweeted about having “tapes,” Comey felt the need to ensure his side of the story was heard. In that moment, he sent the memos to a friend–a professor at Columbia University– and asked him to share them with the press. He did, which resulted in the bombshell New York Times article on the subject. Many on the right are taking this as an issue of “leaking,” however, as General James Clapper elucidated several weeks back, if the information shared is not classified, it cannot be a leak. There was no classified information in the Comey memos.
  • Without mincing words, Comey testified that President Trump’s comments regarding the Bureau being in “disarray” and having lost confidence in its director were “lies, plain and simple.” He further accused the President of defaming both his character, and that of the FBI.
  • The former FBI director admitted some “confusion” about the reason for his termination, but stated that he took the President “at his word” that he was fired in order to relieve the pressure that the Russian investigation was placing on the President’s office.
  • Unequivocally, Comey was able to state that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the United States Presidential Election– a point that President Trump never expressed concern about in his many conversations with the FBI Director.
  • When asked whether he believed President Trump had colluded with Russian officials in their election interference, Mr. Comey refused to answer in open session. (Naturally, this evokes a fair amount of speculation, because if the answer was “no,” it would not be classified and could therefore be shared.)

There were, of course, other points that could be made. There was the rather odd sidebar about Comey’s lack of confidence in Obama-era Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ability to remain neutral in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails– one would definitely question the relevance, let alone the evidence for this, which was justified only with an apparent meeting between Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a tarmac, and Lynch’s request that the investigation be described as “a matter” in discussions with the press.

In a similar vein, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) used his seven minutes of questioning to go off on a winding, disorganized tangent about the investigation into Secretary Clinton; he later explained that he was hoping to impress upon Comey the hypocrisy of his willingness to speculate about the state of the Clinton investigation but not behave similarly in regards to Trump. If that was his goal, he went a long way around the barn without ever reaching his destination.

Finally, in light of yesterday’s events where Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) was silenced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for written confirmation that Robert Mueller would have full independence in his capacity as special counsel, I feel she deserves special recognition here. She spent the seven minutes she had to question Mr. Comey asking the questions that all of us wanted answered. Most, sadly, were not answered in open session, but she did prod Comey into saying that he believed Mueller should “absolutely” have complete independence in his duties.

Naturally, the republican camp dissented against most of this, with Donald Trump Jr. calling Comey’s testimony “BS,” and the President’s private attorney stating that Trump felt “vindicated,” and emphasized the parts of the testimony most convenient to his client while dismissing the rest. Standard operating procedure, really.

That’s all for today, folks. Until next time…

— This is the ALF, signing off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: An Open Letter to The Republican Party, After Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement

Hello all,

Today we have something of a different type of content: an open letter to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party about the consequences of the President’s choice to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Everything written below this paragraph belongs to today’s guest writer–my father, Rick Weidner, and is published here with his permission and my full endorsement.


I wanted to thank the President for aligning us with Syria and Nicaragua rather than all the other nations of the world as regards climate change.

It is hard to imagine that any modern person with an IQ above 70 would see this as a good idea. There are any number of intelligent, informed scientists who would be happy to explain it to him. (Bill Nye would be thrilled I’m sure.)

Perhaps Mr. Trump prefers that his grandchildren grow up cursing his name because they will spend their whole lives wearing gas-masks and living underground since the earth (or the majority of it anyway) will be uninhabitable in 50 years at the rate we’re going.

No matter: He and his oil buddies will make their money; the rest of us, the world and the future be dammed.

This is taking care of the little guy? This is making America great again? It is much better characterized as driving the whole human project into the ditch! (Credit to Harris, 2016 for the phrase).

I know, I know; he won the electoral college and it was a campaign promise. The three million voter advantage that his opponent enjoyed says something quite different. It would be nice if the President would act like there were other people in the country and world besides the top .01% of the income bracket. Seems odd too, since so many other campaign promises were ignored or reversed. I guess we’ll know what it was about when Russia withdraws.

In the meantime, thanks again for putting the very future at peril.

Sincerely,

Rick Weidner


End note: as of today’s writing (June 2nd), Russian President Vladimir Putin has endorsed President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

 

James Comey: You’re Fired… Now What?

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” — United States Declaration of Independence

Folks, the time might be near at hand. Today, following a second day of testimony by former Attorney General Sally Yates, Donald Trump saw fit to fire now-former FBI Director James Comey. Why? Purportedly, because James Comey acted inappropriately in revealing the details of the investigation into Huma Abedin’s email server weeks before the election, and because of his mendacious testimony about that server, saying yesterday that Abedin had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband–the infamous Anthony Weiner– in her roll as Secretary Clinton’s Chief of Staff. The number, in fact, is not more than a “handful.” There are two major points here: first, Trump had praised Comey’s decision to release this information about the Abedin investigation from the point of his election, through the inauguration and beyond. It is not as though Trump recently became aware of this choice, or had denounced it all along. Along similar lines, the ongoing investigation into whether Comey’s actions violated the law is not nearly complete– it is, in fact, not expected to be complete until the end of the year (MSNBC). Thus, this is neither the beginning of this investigation, nor the end. It certainly seems strange that Trump would fire an FBI Director for taking actions that he praised, before an investigation into his actions had concluded. Second, James Comey, for all of his well-known faults, is a man who has been known throughout his career for his precision in testimony. “A handful” of emails is nowhere near thousands, and there is absolutely no way that James Comey did not know the real number as the Director of the FBI entering Congress to testify– not for the first time– on his decision to release that information and the Trump/ Russia connection. And, let’s all be honest– there is very little chance that he mistook “a handful” for thousands– a man known for evasiveness in testimony would simply have answered with “no comment” if the number had escaped him. While perjury is a crime in itself, this thought process leads to a more disturbing conclusion: James Comey lied, on purpose. And today, he was fired—and certainly not for the reasons stated, because any thinking human is capable of seeing that Trump did not fire Comey because Comey handed him an advantage in the election. So then, why? The logical progression of these events is that Comey, who had helped Trump in the election and engaged in a partisan witch hunt against Hillary Clinton against the mandate of his office, has been working with the President for some time. So today, when Trump asked him to fall on the sword so that he could nominate a new Director who would be more willing to stretch the boundaries of the law, he did. This is, of course, speculation, but as the expression goes, “if the shoe fits…”

Let’s not forget, James Comey was due back in session to testify further on Thursday—a testimony that has now been cancelled. And now, Trump will be able to appoint a new director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, who will take over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. If precedent holds, the appointee will be grossly underqualified, and probably have Russian ties of his own. Then—assuming the nominee is approved by the Senate, the new FBI Director will have access to absolutely everything pertaining to the Trump/Russia investigation, and the authority to make decisions about how, or if, that investigation proceeds. It is not an exaggeration to say that if Trump is successful in appointing an inside man to this position, he will have effectively placed himself beyond the reach of the law. This cannot be allowed to occur.

Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) called these circumstances “a constitutional crisis worse than [Watergate].” He is not wrong. This is the time to demand an independent special prosecutor to continue this investigation, prior to the appointment of a new director—at which point there is a very reasonable fear that evidence, and the investigation itself will be destroyed. If Congress allows such a nominee to take control of the FBI, we have lost control of our country.

With this, it is time, I think, to organize a March for Impeachment. Do not get me wrong, I support and appreciate the efforts of the Women’s March, the March for Science, and all the various protests that have occurred since the election, however, the time for single-issue protest in this venue has come and passed. The very fiber of this nation is at risk and we the people, regardless of party and interest group affiliation, must stand up to defend it, and demand that those who allege to represent us defend it as well. If not, we may soon be faced with the very real choice of living under the control of a government that operates outside of the laws on which it was founded, or attempting to follow the suggestion of our Founding Fathers.

I am sure that there will be plenty more to talk about in the coming days, but until then: stay informed, stay alert, and stay safe.

United States Bombs Afghanistan, US-led Coalition Kills 18 Allies in Syria

Trump Doctrine is beginning to emerge as we enter the home stretch of the first 100 days: the “America First” rhetoric that immediately followed Trump’s inauguration is quickly being overridden in favor of the post-election promise to “bomb the shit out of ’em.”

Less than a week after sending 59 Tomahawk missiles to a Syrian air base–with such limited success that planes were able to take off the next day— the United States launched a GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB), striking an ISIS-controlled cave and tunnel structure in Afghanistan. The ten ton MOAB is the largest non-nuclear explosive to see combat, and hit with enough force that there is no doubt anyone in the tunnels would have been killed on impact. A mushroom cloud was visible for several moments following detonation. While it is probably fair to say that the destruction of these tunnels was a reasonable end goal, one wonders exactly how much consideration and care went into making the decision when, just days ago, Trump mistakenly stated he ordered Thursday night’s air strike on Iraq, not Syria. (He was, however, able to describe the cake he was eating at the time in great detail.) It might also be fair to question whether something less than the largest non-nuclear bomb in the arsenal might have been sufficient, especially given the price tag attached to the MOAB: around 15 million dollars.

President Trump called the strike “another very, very successful mission.”  I would suggest he dial back his enthusiasm. First, this was a costly strike, the efficacy of which will only be known with time. Second, the word “another” is bound to raise some eyebrows, especially with the other significant news of the day in mind: a US drone strike in northern Syria killed 18 members of an allied Kurdish coalition, and no one else. The Kurdish force was apparently mistaken for members of the Islamic State– highlighting, again, concerns that military decisions are being made too quickly, and without nearly enough caution.

This is delving into speculation, admittedly, but one has to wonder which of the plausible reasons explain why Trump and the Republicans are so eager to rush to action in the Middle East. Is it the recent abject failures of Congress to pass any meaningful legislation prior to the Easter holiday, an attempt to distract from the ever-developing Russian investigation and infighting within the administration, or both? It would seem that only time will tell.

— This is the ALF, signing off.