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!

Donald Trump - facepalm

(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.

Mike Pence - official portrait - 112th Congress

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.

top secret

(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, BuzzFeedCNN, 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“.

Update: “Deconstructing McMaster” by Robert Litt at Lawfare — “After yesterday’s briefing …it is clear that the Washington Post article about President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russian officials was accurate in all material factual respects.”

Measuring Trump’s support.

Polls show Trump losing support, a key requirement for successful impeachment.

(3)  For More Information

See “Will Trump be impeached – or is it just a liberal fantasy?” in The Guardian — “Only two presidents in history have been impeached, but murmurs continue to surround Trump. Here’s how the process would work – if it would at all.” They do not say why liberals fantasize about having the competent and far-Right Pence as President.
To see how large forces are turning against Trump, see “The Media Have Finally Figured Out How to Cover Trump’s Lies” by Will Oremus at Slate — “Not just falsehood by falsehood, but as the defining feature of his presidency.” Even Fox News and the WSJ are defining him as a liar.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the Constitution, about ways to reform America, about Trump and the new populism, and especially these…

  1. See the warnings about Trump’s infrastructure plan. It’s betraying populism.
  2. Trump prepares for a strong military response to jihadists. We’ll win anyway.
  3. Trump’s win revealed the hollowness of US politics. Stronger leaders will exploit this.
  4. The GOP might impeach Trump, changing our politics forever – for the better.

Books about impeachment in America – and the case against Trump.

The Case for Impeachment
The Case for Impeachment

One of the best introductions to impeachment in modern American politics is The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture since 1960 (2008) by the historian David E. Kyvig (deceased). For more background see these five books about the process and history of impeachment in America.

The latest and most provocative book on this subject is Allan Lichtman’s The Case for Impeachment, released in April. He is a professor of history at American University. From the publisher…

“In the fall of 2016, Lichtman made headlines when he predicted that Trump would defeat the heavily favored Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Now, in clear, nonpartisan terms, Lichtman lays out the reasons Congress could remove Trump from the Oval Office: his ties to Russia before and after the election, the complicated financial conflicts of interest at home and abroad, and his abuse of executive authority.

The Case for Impeachment also offers a fascinating look at presidential impeachments throughout American history, including the often-overlooked story of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, details about Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Bill Clinton’s hearings. Lichtman shows how Trump exhibits many of the flaws (and more) that have doomed past presidents. As the Nixon Administration dismissed the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “character assassination” and “a vicious abuse of the journalistic process,” Trump has attacked the “dishonest media,” claiming, “the press should be ashamed of themselves.”

“Historians, legal scholars, and politicians alike agree: we are in politically uncharted waters—the durability of our institutions is being undermined and the public’s confidence in them is eroding, threatening American democracy itself. Most citizens—politics aside—want to know where the country is headed. Lichtman argues, with clarity and power, that for Donald Trump’s presidency, smoke has become fire.”

Read the first chapter here.


8 thoughts on “What Trump told Russia, why it matters, and why journalists ignore the smartest man in Washington”

  1. Why would Democrats support a Trump impeachment? Two possibilities that I can see:
    1. The idealist possibility–they genuinely believe Trump is such a great danger to the country, in the form of continued security leaks, ties to Russia, and having such an unstable individual in charge of the nuclear launch codes, that they are willing to sacrifice the next years to a complete Republican agenda.
    2. The cynical possibility–they calculated that there was no chance Republicans would support impeachment of Trump, so it was easy to rack up political support by calling for it themselves, much like Republicans made political hay the past eight years by constantly vowing to repeal Obamacare.

    1. Jack,

      That’s an interesting and important question. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that the Left (broadly defined) has become disoriented by their massive — and accelerating — loss of influence during the past generation. So they are making mistakes.

      That puts their lust for impeachment in same context as their pursuit of bathroom rights for transgendered during the 2016 election, their embrace of reparations for Black Americans (probably marking the high-water mark for civil rights in this era), running Hillary for President (when they had far stronger candidates), and screaming NAZI NAZI NAZi as their response to Trump.

  2. Question from abroad: but isn’t this all just another example of the all-american tradition of the great witch-hunt? Allthough now, which is somewhat new (just forget Bill Clinton) on a sitting president?

    Forgive my cynism, but European media has had now for around three weeks stories that the Deparrment of Homeland securities is pressurizing EU/European authorities/airlines for an in-flight ban of laptops, because of some intelligence information on the Islamic State. Which are of course not willing to oblige. because of customers, I mean money.

    So that whole thing isn’t exactly new and if Mr. Trump did not reveal the exact actual source/sigint method, then there is nothing new to the Russians. Even if he told them the town from where it information orginates, you could still argue that this detail was necessary to convince the Russians that he was not selling yellow-cake.

    The past weeks in the US seems more like an endles media frenzy, driven to finish off a president unwanted by the established political networks/interests, made up of innuendo, tell-tale stories (what we would call in German “Dienstmaedchengeschwaetz” (“service maid chatter”), and some unlucky statements blown completely out of proportion.

    Actually, I believe that the WaPo, the NYT and the other players involved are doing more a harm than service to your democracy. Even if Mr. Trump was unfit for office – and believe me I sad he should make himself invisible long ago last summer – this is frigthening because it could be done in same way to any other forthcoming president, even if completely undeserved.

    1. hajo-hi,

      “isn’t this all just another example of the all-american tradition of the great witch-hunt?”

      First, what “great American tradition”? Second, no. Insisting on accountability of leaders is one key reason America and Britain have such long records of stable democratic governments.

      “Allthough now, which is somewhat new (just forget Bill Clinton) on a sitting president?”

      Bill Clinton committed perjury (also, the Arkansas bar suspended his license). It’s a serious crime, undercutting the functioning of the judicial system.

      “So that whole thing isn’t exactly new”

      Details matter in the intel world. Details can blow apart intel networks. Details can get agents and sources killed.

      “Even if he told them the town from where it information orginates, you could still argue that this detail was necessary to convince the Russians that he was not selling yellow-cake.”

      That’s not a detail he should make on the fly, without consultation with relevant experts. It would be like an airline CEO deciding to take the help of a 747 carrying hundreds of passengers. That’s irresponsible.

      “The past weeks in the US seems more like an endles media frenzy”

      What an odd perspective. Perhaps you’re not paying attention to the substance of the discussion. When a distant observer concludes that senior people are acting weirdly, it means the observer doesn’t understand what’s going on.

      I suggest reading more carefully, less critically. You don’t appear to grasp the issues involved.

  3. The Demise of Trump has been the hope and deep desire of all people Status Quo, the Outer Party as we like to call ourselves here, since he burst on the stupid and adolescent and destructive American Political scene. He is still here. Fooled us all didn’t he?
    That article from Jack Goldsmith has the smartest parts in the last two paragraphs. A darn long shot to impeach the POTUS Trump.
    But….go for it, write about it, speculate all day long. Feed ones small pieces into the fire. Keep it burning. Really nothing better to do for some, I guess. And all the while more and more people, citizens, yes, disconnect from the obvious madness that is a stand in for a leadership class in a once fine Country,
    Disgusting. And not even worth social media-ing anymore! Fools we are. And the plutocracy just rambles along. Guard your chips….they want them all.

  4. Gerry Radcliffe

    Billionaire owned media like New York Times and WaPo are a big part of the swamp that Trump said he wanted to drain. Deep government agencies likewise. The swamp simply doesn’t want to be drained, it is too lucrative and powerful in its inherently corrupt fashion. So it fulminates a general hysteria far and wide. Popcorn anyone?

    1. Gary,

      Perhaps you are right. But your perspective risks epistemic closure — living in a bubble, believing only what suits your biases.

      Of course, this is the perspective of a large fraction of the Left and Right today. It’s one of the reasons both have gone bonkers.

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