What Trump told Russia, why it matters, and why journalists ignore the smartest man in Washington
Summary: Here is a summary of the latest sensational Trump fiasco. But more important, here is why the media chatter misses its significance. No matter how significant (or insignificant) the intel given to Russia, it brings the Republicans in Congress one step closer to impeaching him to save the GOP. However tactical their reasons for doing so, it could be a major change in the dynamics of the US government (as described in The GOP might impeach Trump, changing our politics forever – for the better). Be sure to read all three sections below!
(1) The big story lost in the fury about the latest Trump scandal
Another day, another Trump fiasco. The personnel turnover. The incompetent execution of his new immigration policy. His long-awaited proposal to repeal ObamaCare — signing on to Ryan’s “let them die to fund tax cuts for the rich” proposal, breaking key campaign promises. His long-awaited tax policy proposal — a one-page sketch (inadequate for a sophomore’s essay for Econ 201; see its origin). His ignorant and often bizarre tweets.
Now we learn of his careless reveal of secret intel to Russia. The “careless” is more important than the intel’s significance because it warns us of worse mistakes coming in the future.
Each of these stories produces a flood of hostile op-eds (between the chants of Nazi! Nazi! Nazi!) plus applause from the Right (people who believed Sarah Palin was qualified to be President). Both of which obscure the two more important stories.
First, watch Trump’s support among Republicans in Congress. As usual, many or most in the news media miss this story. See this montage of video clips showing journalists asking the Democrats if (or when) they will impeach Trump. Michelle Goldberg at Slate says that “House and Senate Democrats warm up to the case for Trump’s impeachment.” That’s daft. Trump is a gift to the Democrats, capable of discrediting the GOP in the next four years. Also, they should prefer the ineffective Trump to the skilled and far-right Pence.
Republicans are the key players. Their leaders feared that Trump was incapable of competently executing the job of president — even to the minimal standards of Carter or Hoover. Events show that they were optimists. Soon they will have to decide if Trump has to be removed from office to save the GOP from electoral disaster (this can be done, and is consistent with past impeachments). Each episode further erodes his support in Congress, making impeachment more likely.
Our next president, perhaps soon taking office: Mike Pence. Six-term congressman. One term governor of Indiana. See his Wikipedia entry.
Second, the noise about these events masks the presence of the smartest person in the room and the beneficiary of each new Trump fiasco: VP Pence. Accepting the offer of Trump’s long-shot VP candidacy marks him as one of the smartest people in DC. Pence’s odds of inheriting the office were high on January 20: First, after an attack on Trump. Since 1860 there have been over 20 attempts to kill US presidents. Six have been shot, four fatally. Second, after Trump resigns or is declared incapable due to health problems (he’ll be 71 on June 14). Third, due to impeachment.
See how he avoids the firefights around Trump, preferring to act Presidential — patiently waiting to win.
Pence is only 57 years old, easily able to serve up to the ten years maximum allowed under the 22nd Amendment. Imagine competent far-right president driving the strongly conservative Congress, backed by a hard-right majority on the Supreme Court (easily possible in the next few years).
Our ruling elites have long sought to convert America into a stable plutocracy, like mid-19th century Britain. They were frustrated on the eve of success by the Great Depression, WWII, and the Cold War — all forcing mobilization of the citizenry, increasing social mobility and reducing inequality. By 2027 they might succeed, giving us a New America.
(2) The best coverage of Trump’s release of secret intel to Russia
Background: Trump’s lies about his firing of FBI Director Comey. Before that, Trump made a major issue of Clinton’s careless treatment of classified information.
The opening salvo by the WaPo: “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador“, with more details following from Reuters. A torrent of leaks from Team Trump insiders followed, to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, CNN, and others. Israel is said to be the source of the secret intel.
After a brief period of confusion, Trump’s officials responded with carefully word-smithed denials which did not challenge the key points of the allegations. See this analysis of the National Security Advisor’s denial: “The Tarnishing of H.R. McMaster” by Fred Kaplan at Slate — “One of America’s finest soldiers has been dragged into Trump’s swamp of deceit.” More broadly, contrast the cohesive story collectively told by insiders to the evasive denials by White House officials: “Reliable Sources” by William Saletan at Slate — “Why we should believe the anonymous officials in the Washington Post’s leak story over McMaster, Tillerson, and Trump.”
Trump’s tweeted explanation undercut the denials of his officials, and (of course) missed the point made by his critics:
“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
The next bombshell came from the NYT: “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation“.
“President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. …Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations. …
“Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter. ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,’ Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. ‘He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo. …
“In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo. ‘While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,’ the statement said. “
Even conservatives are appalled. See this excellent analysis by the team at Lawfare: “Initial Thoughts on the Washington Post’s Game-Changing Story“. David French at National Review shows that GOP support for Trump has begun to fray: “Trump’s Defense of His Russia Leak Is Not Reassuring“.
Measuring Trump’s support.
Polls show Trump losing support, a key requirement for successful impeachment.
- Impeachment — A Pew Poll taken on May 12 – 14 found that 48% were in favor of impeachment and 41% opposed. Public Policy Polling got the exact same results in a May 12-14 survey.
- Trump’s job approval rating — A Quinnnipiac University poll on May 4-9 found 36% approve vs. 58% disapprove Gallup’s May 15 poll found 38% approve vs. 55% disapprove.