Last Friday, news broke that the US Intelligence Community had, again, as it did in 2017, determined that the Russian government was interfering in an American presidential election with the goal of helping elect Donald Trump.
But unlike the 2017 assessment, which was a post-mortem, this one was an active red alert: the IC was warning that Russia was in the process of attacking our democracy as we speak. It was as if a radio message came in during the wee hours after midnight on December 7th, 1941 saying “Uh, Japanese planes are headed toward Pearl Harbor.” Or if on the morning of September 11th, 2001 an observant flight attendant walking out of an Au Bon Pain at Newark’s Terminal B had noted, “Hey, four guys are getting on this plane carrying boxcutters.”
But President Donald J. Trump, upon hearing about this assessment, which had been briefed to the House Intelligence Committee on February 13, did not raise the alarm, get on the red phone to Vladimir Putin and tell him to cut that shit out or else, or lift even one of his tiny little fingers to stop the Russian actions.
Instead, he flew into a rage at the very suggestion that Russia was working to help him, denied it was true, and did everything he could to bury the news, to include firing his acting Director of National Intelligence for allowing the briefing in the first place, and replaced him with a former Internet troll.
So to be clear, here’s the situation, which would be eye-rollingly bad if it were the plot of an airport spy novel:
The President of the United States is a notoriously shady businessman with extensive financial connections in the land of one of our most vicious enemies, connections he lied about during his campaign for office, giving that enemy vast leverage over him. He openly accepted the help of that enemy in order to win the election, and since taking power he has repeatedly, brazenly served its ends at the expense of our own. (See the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, Helsinki, the quashing of the Mueller probe, Syria, and more.) He has refused to harden our electoral system against future attacks of the sort that aided him, and for obvious reasons, as he is yet again accepting that enemy’s help, and using the full power of his presidency to cover it up, along with his complicity in it.
Do I really need to say that this state of affairs is a five alarm housefire of a crisis without precedent in American history?
It was a dazzling intelligence coup by a regional power (albeit a conniving and ruthless one) over a superpower — one in the grip of a self-destructive mass hysteria, aided by an often naive media, and beset by deep vulnerabilities in its democratic institutions. Every patriotic American ought to be infuriated by what’s going on. Yet it is the most ostentatiously flag-waving right wingers who have been most thoroughly hoodwinked by this effort, and most adamantly insist it is not happening.
In the Kremlin they must be howling with laughter.
WHAT, US WORRY?
We have known for more than three years that the Russians (and others) intended to attack our electoral system again. Numerous defense and intelligence officials and private sector experts have frantically rung the fire bell in an effort to rouse the government to action, only to be shut down by a livid White House and a shamelessly unbothered Mitch McConnell. Most pointedly, special counsel Robert Mueller, having already indicted a dozen Russian intelligence operatives for the 2016 attacks, warned Congress of this very thing on national television last July.
Now we see it happening before our eyes, and Trump and his Republican protectors actively abetting it.
The story was a bombshell, but not as big a bomb as it should have been. It should have obliterated all other news. It should have resulted in a national emergency, mass protests (and resignations) in the Departments of State and Defense and Homeland Security, a general strike in the CIA, DIA, FBI, and the rest of the Intelligence Community, angry rallies in the streets, barricades going up, Senators and Congressmen on the floor of the US Capitol building demanding the president’s resignation.
Did I miss that while watching Week 3 of the XFL?
Folks, we are allowing a demonstrable asset of a hostile foreign state to sit in the Oval Office, using the full range of presidential authority to maintain a chokehold on power, serving the interests those enemies at the expense of the United States, refusing to admit what he is doing, let alone put a stop (and why he should he when it helps him so?), and blocking every effort to expose the truth.
To be fair, plenty of profoundly outraged veterans of the national security and intelligence apparatus raised the alarm. Here’s a tweet from former CIA Director John Brennan (whom Trump vindictively stripped of his security clearance):
We are now in a full-blown national security crisis. By trying to prevent the flow of intelligence to Congress, Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s.
And Sally Yates, former acting US Attorney General (whom Trump fired):
This is a screaming red siren, but in the daily barrage of crazy, can we hear it?Trump is not only trying to rewrite history of Russia’s intervention in 2016, he is now using the power of the presidency to conceal their 2020 scheme to re-elect him.
And Admiral (Ret.) Bill McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 Bin Laden raid as commander of US Special Operations Command (who Trump dismissed as a “Hillary lover”):
As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.
But these howls of indignation are not enough.
As an abuse of power, getting in bed with the enemy to maintain one’s position atop the government is about as abuse-of-powery as it gets. As Trump himself would say, we used to shoot people who did that sort of thing.
THE BEST PEOPLE
Trump learned of the February 13th House briefing because the greasy little excuse for a human being that is Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) went running to the White House to tattle about it. Apparently, during the briefing Nunes and other Republicans refused to accept what the intel experts were telling them, attacking it as Democratic Party disinformation, part of their tinfoil hat fantasy about a “Deep State” conspiracy against the President. A theory that conveniently disregards the fact that it was the President’s own appointees presenting the facts.
(Subsequent attempts by administration to downplay and discredit the contents of the briefing — credulously regurgitated by the likes of CNN — smack of transparently weak damage control.)
Of course, “tattle” is not really the right word, as there was nothing clandestine about the briefing, conducted by Shelby Pierson, the IC’s lead official on election interference. On the contrary: it is the job of the Intelligence Community to provide critical analysis to the US government, especially, uh, people like the House Intelligence Committee. But that is the very point: Trump is subverting the entire purpose of the IC to protect his own ass, and by extension, serving the ends of Vladimir Putin.
Donald’s typically rage-a-holic and hamhanded response was to throw a temper tantrum, and to fire acting DNI Joseph Maguire, who — and you’ll be shocked to hear this — has been on Trump’s shit list ever since he testified before the House in the Ukraine scandal last fall. (Prompting the angry op-ed from Maguire’s fellow SEAL and longtime comrade, Admiral McRaven.)
True to form, Trump’s choice for new DNI, Richard Grenell, currently the US Ambassador to Germany, has zero intelligence experience or any other qualifications that remotely recommend him for the job, save one: he is a vocal and fanatical devotee for Trump. Grenell — a man with a severe case of Resting Douchebag Face — is so hated by the German government and public in his present job (for which he is equally unqualified), that some in Berlin took the unprecedented step of demanding that he be recalled.
What could go wrong?
And so we see Donald Trump suppressing and destroying the very raison d’etre of an intelligence apparatus: to provide truthful, fact-based analysis to facilitate informed decision-making at the highest levels. By so doing, he is not only perverting his office, but doing untold damage to the security of the United States.
AUTOCRACY IS AS AUTOCRACY DOES
This latest scandal dwarfs even Ukrainegate, though it is related in terms of sheer corruption, international skullduggery, and connection to the original sin of the Trump administration, which is its fealty to Moscow. I reported last week that Trump, newly emboldened after the travesty of his “acquittal” by Senate Republicans, is on a deathquest to obliterate the 2017 conclusion of the IC regarding Russian ratfucking on his behalf……reflecting his even more fundamental obsession, the notion that such Russian aid delegitimizes his “victory.”
And so we see further evidence that Post-Impeachment Trump feels absolutely unshackled in his belief that he can break any rule he wants, and with absolute impunity. Lesson learned, right, Susan Collins?
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:
When the Senate acquitted President Trump of the high crimes he committed against our country, Republicans and Democrats alike fell back on a convenient fiction: No, Trump has not really placed himself beyond the law and accountability entirely — for he can always be held accountable in the next election.
Republicans adopted this fiction to obscure Trump’s crimes — that his Ukraine shakedown was all about corrupting that same election. Democrats adopted it to diffuse pressure to sustain the investigative war footing that protecting the country demands.
The news that intelligence officials warned House lawmakers that Russia is again trying to sabotage our election for Trump, and that this disclosure angered him, shatters that fiction entirely.
These revelations are already getting shrouded in euphemism. One CNN analysis insists “America” is “blundering” into another crisis of electoral legitimacy, and that the “partisan divide” is hampering the US response to it. This notion that the country writ large is stumbling helplessly into this crisis, when in fact one party is inviting it in a manner the other simply is not, and its companion idea that “partisanship” will paralyze our response to it, will be ubiquitous.
So let’s not mince words: Trump and his GOP defenders appear to be actively abetting an attack on our country. By contrast, Democrats can be accused only of passivity — a serious abdication, but not remotely comparable to what Trump and his defenders are orchestrating.
To Sargent’s point about false equivalence, the IC also concluded that the Kremlin is interfering to help Bernie Sanders. The difference was in Sanders’ response, even if he didn’t make it publicly until forced to comment: “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.” (Bernie also suggested that some of the more virulent and divisive rhetoric attributed to some of his supporters might actually be coming from Russian trolls.)
DEAR GREAT GRANDCHILDREN: WE SUCKED
A word from the foggy past that deserves a lot more airplay these days is “quisling,” meaning a treasonous collaborator with an enemy invader or occupier, particularly one who participates in an puppet government. The name comes from Vidkun Quisling, the compliant leader of Norway under the Nazi occupation. (His family must be so proud.)
Henceforth, I suspect, American “quislings” will be rebranded as “trumps.” The guys in marketing are very excited about it.
When the history of this period in American life is written, our generation will be covered in shame for what we allowed to happen and just shrugged off as we went about our daily business. I have long wondered how far Trump would have to go to rouse the ire of a sufficient number of Americans to force his ouster.
It is to our great national humiliation that we ain’t found that limit yet.
Illustration: Santa Monica Daily Press