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This Is the Moment of Truth for Republicans

By James Fallows

There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday, from a serving American president.

Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—witting, unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes—whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter.

Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic not to realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.

Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both possibly true—the main question is the proportions.

Whatever the balance of motivations, what mattered was that Trump’s answers were indistinguishable from Putin’s, starting with the fundamental claim that Putin’s assurances about interference in U.S. democracy (“he was incredibly strong and confident in his denial”) deserved belief over those of his own Department of Justice (“I think the probe is a disaster for our country”).

I am old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon telling lies on TV, about Vietnam (in both cases) and Watergate for Nixon. I remember the travails and deceptions of Bill Clinton, and of George W. Bush in the buildup to the disastrous Iraq war.

But never before have I seen an American president consistently, repeatedly, publicly, and shockingly advance the interests of another country over those of his own government and people.

Trump himself manifestly cannot help himself. This is who he is.

Those who could do something are the 51 Republican senators, and 236 Republican representatives, who have the power to hold hearings, issue subpoenas, pass resolutions of censure, guarantee the integrity of …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Trump-Putin Summit Shows the Dangers of Executive Power

By Conor Friedersdorf

On Monday, President Donald Trump begins a summit with Vladimir Putin, the brutal authoritarian who leads Russia, a country where political dissidents are murdered; journalists, minorities, and homosexuals are persecuted; neighbors live under the threat of military takeover, and multiple hackers with close ties to the Kremlin are under FBI indictment for interfering in America’s 2016 election.

It is necessary to meet with such men. Yet to love truth or liberty or democracy or justice or human rights or mere decency is to disapprove of Putin. And Trump has lavished praise on his Russian counterpart for years—long before he was in office and the pretext of diplomacy could be invoked—even singling out his “strength over his country” and comparing his leadership favorably to then-President Barack Obama.

The substance of Trump’s bygone words is so repugnant and morally degenerate that Americans should feel upset he is representing our country in bilateral talks. At best, the values implicit in Trump’s bygone statements are un-American—they explicitly value a foreign leader’s brutal, repressive strength more highly than the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness it has undermined.

Because he has been similarly obsequious when talking about other murderous dictators, and because his personal life is so rife with senseless cruelty, I think his depraved personal values are sufficient to explain his disconcerting words.

Other critics insist that the way he flatters Putin suggests something even darker when seen in the context of his suspicious business ties to Russians, his determination to hide the details of his finances, the closeness of his political associates’s corrupt ties to Moscow, and Trump’s flagrant lies about those associates. With a publication as mainstream as New York titling a cover story, “Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart—Or His Handler?” it is clear that the president …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



Even Never Trump Evangelicals Might Be Swayed by the Supreme Court

By Emma Green

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is the consummation of one of the big bets behind the 2016 election. Many white Christians voted for Donald Trump because they believed he would appoint conservative justices who would protect religious liberty and advance the pro-life cause. Now, ostensibly, they’ve been vindicated. With less than two years in office, Trump will very possibly see the confirmation of his second Supreme Court nominee, another handpicked choice of the conservative legal establishment.

At the time, however, it wasn’t at all clear how this bet would play out. Particularly in the evangelical world, the divisions over the 2016 election were bitter. A number of prominent leaders stepped out to urge their fellow Christians to consider what their vote would say to the world. Two years later, their largely positive reaction to Kavanaugh’s nomination is one sign that the intense political fractures in the evangelical world are fading—at least on the surface, and at least for now.

“I’ve never seen the SBC this unified,” said one of these leaders—Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention—in an interview on Wednesday. That unity has emerged in personal relationships and attitudes, he said, but it also seems to be the case in politics. Eighteen months into the Trump era, evangelical leaders are looking for ways to come together under this administration, even if existential questions about the future of the evangelical movement remain.

When Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced, Moore’s office—the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or ERLC—put out a jubilant statement. “Supreme Court nominations are a crucial aspect of any president’s legacy,” it read. “With Judge Kavanaugh, President Trump has an opportunity to shape the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation or more.” On Wednesday, Moore told me he was “very happy” with the pick: …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Red-State Democrats’ Many Paths to ‘No’

By Dick Polman

Conventional wisdom decrees that red-state Democratic senators running for reelection are politically screwed, regardless of how they vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. If they signal thumbs-up, they’ll infuriate the party’s progressive base and dampen the Democratic turnout they’ll badly need. Thumbs-down, they’ll make it easier for Republicans to attack them as Trump-hating obstructionists in states the president won by double digits in 2016.

So goes the argument, as articulated by Democratic commentators like Ed Kilgore in New York magazine (“It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation”), and, more predictably, by Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham (“This is a nightmare for red-state Democrats”). The conventional solution for those Democrats presumably living that nightmare—Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri—is that they should inoculate themselves at home by propelling Kavanaugh to the high court.

But there’s a countervailing view—in judicial parlance, a dissenting opinion—that these senators should eschew political calculations and seize the historic moment, that they should unite with the rest of the Democratic caucus and take a stand for principles that are currently under unprecedented attack. And by doing so, perhaps they can still benefit politically, by galvanizing grassroots Democrats to show up in strength for the midterm elections—something they failed to do in the red waves of 2010 and 2014.

In the words of Adam Jentleson, who served former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid as deputy chief of staff, “Now, with everything progressives have fought for at stake if the Supreme Court holds a conservative majority for a generation, lawmakers from states that voted for Trump have to understand that this is one of those fights that defines what it means to be a Democrat. From concerns about the Affordable Care …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Swamp Isn’t Easy to Drain

By Jay Cost

Donald Trump rode to Washington, D.C., on a pledge to “drain the swamp,” but so far his administration has luxuriated in the filth. Trump’s hotels have made a mint from bookings related to government business. And with the president’s tax returns still under lock and key, it remains unclear how the Trump Organization may be profiting from his various policies. Meanwhile, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to have used the resources of the Environmental Protection Agency to live high on the hog, tasking staffers with attending to his personal business and receiving sweetheart deals on room and board from special interests.

And it is not just Trump. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat, was prosecuted last year for corruption-related offenses stemming from his relationship with the ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. Although after a mistrial the Department of Justice dropped the charges against Menendez, it is clear that Melgen lavished high-value gifts upon Menendez, and in turn received attention that the average New Jerseyan could never hope to get.

All of this comes at a time when Americans feel especially alienated from Washington, D.C. Populist movements on the left and right have advanced opposing policy solutions, but everybody from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz seems to believe that the government is working for the “1 percent,” rather than the people at large.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to the problem of political corruption, to the anti-republican bending of government authority to serve the interests of a well-connected few rather than the many. It would be a relief if such corruption were simply the result of a handful of bad actors in politics, or a recent development that might be easily reversed, but its roots go much deeper. Ultimately, corruption is a side effect of the modern state itself. Any government robust …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Russian to Conclusions

By Elaine Godfrey

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

Today in 5 Lines

  • A grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for allegedly attempting to interfere with the 2016 presidential election by hacking into computers and email systems of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The White House responded in a statement, saying, “Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement of anyone on the campaign.”

  • The indictment, filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, showed that the Russian attempt to breach the Clinton campaign’s emails happened around the same time that then-candidate Donald Trump had addressed Russia in a press conference, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on President Trump to cancel his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin “until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections.”

  • During a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump accused several news organizations of spreading “fake news.” He also had tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle outside of London.

  • The state of Indiana has spent at least $21 million cleaning up sites contaminated by gas stations owned by Vice President Mike Pence’s family, according an analysis of records by the AP.

Today on The Atlantic


Mueller’s Blockbuster Indictment

By Paul Rosenzweig

It’s always on Fridays. Almost like clockwork, each new indictment from the Special Counsel’s office released on a Friday afternoon, just in time to disrupt the weekend news cycle. Not that anyone is complaining, because this week’s indictment is a blockbuster—an 11-count indictment of 12 Russian military officers alleging that they engaged in a hacking campaign against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

All 12 of the officers are said to be members of the GRU—the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army. When you think of them, imagine, if you will, colonels and lieutenants in America’s Defense Intelligence Agency and you have a rough equivalent. They are said to have stolen gigabytes of information, released it to the public through false personas, given it to one unnamed organization (which is almost certainly WikiLeaks) for disclosure, and tried to cover their tracks.

What to make of this indictment? Well, with the caveat that these are only allegations that only reflect evidence presented to a grand jury (and thus, not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a trial), there is probable cause for the following conclusions:

First, Vladimir Putin has told the President that the Russian government did not interfere in the American elections. Putin is lying—plain and simple. There are no circumstances under which an arm of the Russian military would undertake an information operation of this sort without approval from the highest levels. American intelligence agencies had earlier made this point in a conclusory way—now it appears to be true. President Trump has previously seemed to accept Putin’s disclaimer of a role—how he will react to these latest revelations in the run-up to Monday’s summit with Putin is anyone’s guess.

Second, none of these Russian officers is ever going to stand trial. …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Coincidence at the Heart of the Russia Hacking Scandal

By David A. Graham

The broad outlines of Friday’s indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, charging 12 Russians with conspiracy, identity theft, and money laundering in connection with hacking during the 2016 presidential election, are not surprising. The hacking of the Democratic National Committee has been public knowledge since July 2016, and even then, the authorities publicly stated that the perpetrators were Russian government officials. Other details, such as the apparent involvement of WikiLeaks and Trump adviser Roger Stone, were also known. Some of the details, however, are striking.

On July 27, 2016, at a Trump press conference in Florida, the candidate referred to 33,000 emails that an aide to Hillary Clinton had deleted from the former secretary of state’s personal email server. The DNC had recently announced the Russian intrusion, and Trump speculated that if Russia broke into the DNC, it would have accessed Clinton’s emails, too.

“By the way, if they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails,” Trump said. “I hope they do. They probably have her 33,000 emails that she lost and deleted. Because you’d see some beauties there.”

That was perhaps irresponsible speculation, but it wasn’t crazy. There were widespread questions about Clinton’s information security, and whether she might have compromised government secrets. But a few minutes later Trump said something much stranger.

“I will tell you this: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

The president was encouraging a foreign adversary to illegally hack into messages by a former secretary of state that might contain sensitive information, then release them publicly.

Trump had good reason to believe that Russia was listening. The previous month, his son, Donald Jr.; son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had a meeting …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



The Russians Who Hacked the 2016 Election

By David A. Graham

A grand jury in Washington, D.C., on Friday indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, charging them with hacking intended to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

The indictment, sought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, charge the defendants with hacking into computers and email systems of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. The hackers also allegedly broke into computer systems of an unidentified state board of elections, stealing personal information for 500,000 voters.

Friday’s indictment is important because the hacking of the DNC was the origin story for the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The DNC announced in June 2016 that its computer networks had been infiltrated, and security experts quickly concluded that Russia was behind the break-in. Further investigation by multiple American intelligence committees reached the same conclusion. Since then, there have been new allegations and revelations about Russian interference, ranging from the “troll farm” that was the target of Mueller indictments earlier this year to allegations of coordination and collusion between Russians and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

President Trump has repeatedly derided Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” even as it produces indictments, guilty pleas, and a pile of new, detailed information about how Russian interfered. The hacks are an especially important part of this case: Unlike claims of collusion or obstruction of justice, the hacking clearly constituted a crime, and there was a clear culprit. As a result, the fact that Mueller hadn’t charged anyone in connection with the crime until how had become conspicuous.

That curious silence ended on Friday. The defendants are charged with conspiracy against the United States, identity theft, and money laundering.

“The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, …read more

Via:: The Atlantic



Steve Bannon’s British Sideshow

By Rosie Gray

When President Trump made his first visit abroad last year, Steve Bannon was still at the heart of everything.

A year later, Bannon is no longer by the president’s side as Trump visits the United Kingdom, after a precipitous political fall from grace earlier this year. But he’s still shown up on the edges of the trip, camping out in the U.K. and supporting Trump through media appearances as an unofficial surrogate.

As the president struggles through a hurricane of negative coverage and protests in Britain, Bannon turning up as a support act and surrounding himself with Trump-friendly actors could be interpreted on some level as a strategic play: to show his former boss he’s still useful, still loyal, and still the man who can flip a narrative—and maybe even flip out of office all the pesky European allies who irritate Trump so.

Bannon is “the best surrogate the president has,” said a former White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. And Bannon may stand to benefit from the president’s compulsive TV-watching, the source said: “The more Steve goes on TV and the president sees him doing a great job defending him, the more likely we will see a detente and even an eventual reunion between the two.”

Bannon isn’t being shy about his movements in the United Kingdom. “I’m here to be a surrogate on British media,” Bannon told Politico, and as recently as Friday morning he appeared on Piers Morgan’s “Good Morning Britain.” This week, Bannon has also been taking meetings in a hotel room in London with key figures in the European and British right, including his ally Nigel Farage, the former United Kingdom Independence Party leader, and Louis Aliot, a top official in France’s Front National and …read more

Via:: The Atlantic