ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 25

Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

 Now, the Brits are hunting in Libya for some members of the Manchester terror cell.

They’ve already made a half-dozen arrests, including the bomber’s brother, in the UK  (New York Times)

Officials were looking into reports that people who knew Mr. Abedi — including an imam at his mosque — had contacted the authorities as early as 2015 with concerns that he may have been recruited by extremists. –New York Times

Comment: The police, overwhelmed with tips, sometimes drop the ball. That’s always disturbing, but it would be more disturbing if they shied away for PC reasons. That’s been a problem for UK police. Here, for example, is the Manchester police apologizing for a 2016 training exercise that resembled an Islamist attack.

 Meanwhile, UK officials are furious that the NYT published secret information about the crime (BBC) The UK had shared it with the US. The Brits believes the leakers were US police, not the White House.

 Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter running circles around the MSM, this time on Obama Administration illegal spying on Americans

How bad was it? Bad enough that the lap dog FISA court judges were infuriated by the deceit and illegal action.

 Congressional Budget Office says Trump-Ryan health plan will be budget neutral but leave 23 million more uninsured over a decade (Associated Press)

The report said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people, over 10 years. –AP

Comment: These numbers are disturbing but it compares this bill to Obamacare on the assumption that the ACA will survive. It won’t. It’s melting down and to save it would cost trillions.

 Mike Flynn has clammed up, but Paul Manafort has given Congressional investigators his documents related to Russian contacts (Washington Post)

◆ Richard Friedman on NATO’s purpose today (ZipDialog post)

 Who controls the South China Sea? China claims it, but it is an international waterway, and the US ensures it. The US navy sends occasional ships through to make sure it is open. Now, the US navy is conducting its first such operation of the Trump presidency. (CNN)

 Today in PC lunacy: White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs’ (Daily Mail) In Portland, naturally.

Comment: The city will give up Hindu-Arabic numerals when they discover they were invented in South Asia in the 6th or 7th century  and stolen from those poor folks. (Britannica)

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Fred Lawson
 for the Manchester police apology
◆ Tim Favero and Tom Elia for the burrito story; they clearly know me!

The “Comey firing” story is going according to script: A comment

◆ The Partisans are saying exactly what you expect them to say

  • The Democrats are calling the firing Nixonian, an obstruction of justice because, they say, it was designed to block the Russian investigation.
  • The Republicans are saying that the FBI director’s appointment is within the President’s responsibilities and that Comey’s immediate boss at the Dept. of Justice, a highly-regarded, non-political attorney, lacked confidence in him.

  • The Republicans are stressing the role of Rod Rosenstein, as I expected. Rosenstein memo to his superiors clearly says he lacked confidence in Comey, who, he says, not only made serious mistakes (for which the Democrats had lacerated him) but was still saying he did nothing wrong. By failing to acknowledge his mistakes and learn from them, he raises the likelihood that he will keep making them.
  • The memo, plus news that Trump was frustrated with the continuing Russia investigation (d’uh!), are among the few nuggets of real news since the initial story broke.
  • I explain the basic logic of the two parties’ positions in a previous post here.

The Democrats are clearly on the offensive, but they have a problem. You cannot coverup a crime–which is essentially their charge against Trump–unless there is a crime.

So far, there is simply no evidence of such a crime involving Trump or his campaign. Yes, there is a serious investigation into Michael Flynn and perhaps into others, and, yes, the Russians meddled in our election, but so far there is nothing to suggest Trump collaborated with the Russians. (Related story: The Senate committee investigating the Russia issue has ordered Flynn to turn over relevant papers after he failed to do so voluntarily. BBC)

The Democrats’ call for a special independent counsel will fail unless they can come up with some evidence to support their basic allegation.

Meanwhile, Trump absolutely must appoint a top-notch, apolitical, experienced law enforcement leader to the FBI. The best names I have heard are Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly, people who have run large police departments very successfully.

That appointment is not only crucial for Trump politically. It is crucial for the country, which wants to restore confidence in the justice system. And it will be crucial down the line for Trump, who needs to be able to say that the Russia connection was bunk and that a serious FBI inquiry proves it. If the FBI leader doesn’t pass the tests for neutrality and competence, Trump won’t be able to say that.

◆ Related story: In the meantime, Trump has hung a nickname on Schumer: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” (The Hill) Before deriding Trump’s childishness, remember that he has a real knack for picking nicknames that highlight an opponent’s vulnerability. They stick and they work–not always, but mostly. Jeb Bush was low energy. Marco Rubio did seem too little in the campaign. Hillary was and is corrupt. The Schumer nickname highlights his whining negativity–and Trump could make it stick.

ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, March 11

Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Comment: The Trump presidency will be in deep trouble if it cannot pass a repeal-and-replace bill.

Right now, the White House and Congressional leadership face real problems from the right in House (which doesn’t want to keep Obamacare’s big subsidies to the poor, locking in an entitlement) and centrist Republicans in the Senate (who fear they cannot be reelected in moderate states if they repeal these subsidies). Think: small fairway with a water hazard on the right and thick bushes on the left.

The House Freedom Caucus expresses principled opposition to entitlement expansion. Basically, they want repeal without replace. The members are all in safe districts that Trump won, so the members may be reluctant to oppose a president popular among their voters. It’s hard to know if these members can be pressured by Speaker Ryan and the White House to sell out their principles.

The moderate Senators are harder to pressure because they fear a wrong vote could cost them their seats. In the past, they could be coaxed by side-payments. That’s what Pres. Obama did with the “Cornhusker Kickback” and “Louisiana Purchase.” Those backfired and they won’t work this time.

This is sausage-making at its bloodiest. It’s not even clear the pig is dead yet.

 Michael Flynn, former NSC adviser, was paid to represent Turkish interests during the Trump campaign  (New York Times)

Comment: Although Turkey is a NATO member and the lobbying work was not illegal, it is stunning that he did not register as a “foreign agent” contemporaneously (he is only doing so now) and that the Trump vetting team didn’t catch this advance. He can’t say he forgot. The check was for $500k. It is a very good thing he’s already gone. 

 Top Democrats’ tech aide, now under criminal investigation, had access to their private emails, including DNC emails  The details are here. (Daily Caller)

Imran Awan — the lead suspect in a criminal probe into breaches of House of Representatives information security systems — possessed the password to an iPad used by then-Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz when DNC emails were given to WikiLeaks. . . .

The FBI requested access to the DNC’s server to find out who was responsible, but the DNC refused, FBI Director James Comey said, according to The Hill.

Politico reported that New York Rep. Gregory “Meeks and, to a larger extent, Wasserman Schultz, are said to have a friendly personal relationship with Awan and his wife, according to multiple sources.”

House authorities set their sights on the Awans while investigating the existence of a secret server that was funneling congressional data off-site.

They also suspect Imran of stealing money and equipment. –Daily Caller

 Good News on Free Speech: Univ. of Chicago proposes ‘free speech deans’ to prevent disruptive conduct (Campus Reform)

The University of Chicago could soon implement new policies that would severely limit “those engaged in disruptive conduct” from preventing “others from speaking or being heard.”

A recently-released faculty committee report also suggests establishing “free speech deans-on-call” trained to “deal with disruptive conduct” in order to ensure students are not prevented from expressing themselves on campus. –Anthony Gockowski at Campus Reform

 

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ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Wednesday, February 15

Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
Linked articles in bold purple

 Today’s ZipDialog Roundup is entirely devoted to the serious ramifications of the Michael Flynn dismissal

 There are two overriding issues:

  1. Who will replace Flynn as National Security Adviser?
  2. Who leaked highly-classified signals intelligence on Flynn to the Washington Post? (Who is behind it and why?)

 Possible successors: David Petraeus and two others top the rumors  (USA Today) The top name among insiders is Robert Harward, a former deputy to Sec. of Defense Mattis. Another is retired general and former deputy to Flynn, Keith Kellogg. He is acting NSC Adviser now and has close ties to Trump. Then there is the truly formidable military strategist, David Petraeus.

Comment on Petraeus: Professionals consider David Petraeus the most successful battlefield general since World War II.  He achieved that not only by his field command but by completely revamping US military doctrine to meet the challenges of asymmetric warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. He is a serious strategist who knows all the top players in Washington and around the world.

Gen. Petraeus comes with two problems, though. One is obvious. One is not. The obvious one is his criminal record, a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified intelligence. That should not stop him from being appointed since he is the most qualified candidate, by far, and the job does not require Senate confirmation. Still, appointing him after his legal troubles would give the Democrats another target to shoot at and allow them to say that Republicans were being hypocritical when the criticized Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified documents. The Trump administration might want to avoid that incoming fire.

What could easily sink Petraeus, though, is not his weakness but his strength: he can and will stand up to the President (a crucial job in any White House) and stand up to the Secretary of Defense, intelligence officials, Sec. of State, Steve Bannon, and anybody else with turf to protect.

If you think these power players want another big-time player down the hall from the President, you must be returning from a Grateful Dead concert with high-powered brownies.  Do you think, just maybe, the folks at the Pentagon would prefer the boss’s old deputy? Yes, indeed.

A final point about the NSC adviser’s job: There are really two ways to serve as NSC adviser: Traffic Cop or Strategist. (The third, played by Ben Rhodes as Obama’s No. 2 at NSC, is Toady, constantly saying, “Yes, Mr. President, that is the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard. Please tell me more.” In his case, I used the term No. 2 advisedly.) Kellogg and Harward would probably serve as traffic cop, assembling the recommendations from the principals, such as Mattis and Tillerson, and presenting them fairly to the president for a decision. Petraeus would play more the strategist’s role, as did Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. (That might give the administration one strategist too many since Mattis himself is a very thoughtful, experienced one.)

 Who leaked this highly-classified information and Why? Those are the most important unknowns in this mess so far.

Mike Flynn’s phone call to Russia’s Ambassador to the US, Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, was captured by US signals intelligence, presumably the FBI since it was on US soil. Information about such intercepts is highly classified. So, how come we know so much about this private phone call? That is the single most important question in this episode. Someone saw this secret information and leaked it to the Washington Post, just as the FBI leaked confidential information about the Hillary Clinton investigation.

That “someone” could be in the intel agencies, or it could be an Obama holdover at Justice or State. It could be someone who desperately wants to kill the Trump administration in the crib. Or it could be someone who wants to change US policy toward Russia and thought Flynn was far too close to the Kremlin. Or it could be someone with a more limited goal, simply getting rid of Flynn, an experienced (but controversial) military-intelligence officer who vocally criticized US intelligence analysis for being politicized under Obama. It is no secret the Obama people had the long knives out for him. I suspect it is a cabal of Obama loyalists collaborating with unhappy careerists in the intel agencies and DOJ.

The Flynn leaks did not stop with one still-anonymous disclosure of the phone call. Multiple people have confirmed the leaked information. All of them must have had high-level security clearances and access to this information.

 My hunch is this:

The Flynn phone came while the Obama administration was still in office. Transcripts of the call circulated at the time to national security officials in the Obama White House, the Department of Justice, and probably John Kerry’s State Department. We know that senior DOJ officials were involved because one of them, an Obama holdover, told Trump aides about it after he became president. That DOJ official was Sally Yates, the same person who refused to defend Trump’s travel ban and was fired. She was the one who “warned” the Trump White House that Flynn could blackmailed by the Russians, according to reports.

⇒ If you want to know how costly it is to be a newcomer in Washington, look no further than the Trump newcomers asking Sally Yates to stay until Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General. She was already known to be a Trump adversary; keeping her on at DOJ was a serious error, one that no experienced pol would make. If you want to know what the Democrats accomplished by holding up Sessions confirmation, again, look at Ms. Yates. The Democrats actually retained political control over all agencies without a confirmed Trump nominee. Even when the Trump people arrive, they will find Obama loyalists and Trump adversaries in place throughout their bureaucracies. Expect trouble from them for years to come.

Returning to the Flynn phone intercept . . . here is what Eli Lake reports at Bloomberg:

Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.  –Eli Lake at Bloomberg

These leaks are serious felonies and deeply damaging to US security. They should be rooted out and people should be indicted. So should any careerists who leaked the content of Pres. Trump’s phone calls to other countries’ leaders.  They may not like the President. They may not like Mike Flynn. It doesn’t matter. Their leaks are damaging our country for their own political purposes.

 To learn more about these issues (links for each article): 

Multiple sources closely involved in the situation pointed to a larger, more secretive campaign aimed at discrediting Flynn and undermining the Trump White House.

“It’s undeniable that the campaign to discredit Flynn was well underway before Inauguration Day, with a very troublesome and politicized series of leaks designed to undermine him,” said one veteran national security adviser with close ties to the White House team. “This pattern reminds me of the lead up to the Iran deal, and probably features the same cast of characters.” –Washington Free Beacon

Comment: These shady dealings–and the permanent bureaucracies’ obvious loathing of Trump–is feeding paranoia about a “deep state” that governs America instead of its elected officials. Feeding that paranoia and, worse, proving it true, could be the deepest damage of all.

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Tom Elia
 for the Free Beacon story on Obama officials’ role in this takedown

 

Trump Reorganizes His National Security Council . . . Badly

This was the lead item in ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, but it has received so much attention that I want to post it separately, with some additional commentary. –Charles Lipson

◆ Trump reorganizes membership on his National Security Council, removing Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, adding political adviser Steve Bannon (Wall Street Journal)

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Comment: THIS IS NUTS.

Any serious national security decisions require direct input from the leaders of the military and intelligence communities. Besides their judgment, the president needs their efforts to implement decisions taken by the NSC and to coordinate their actions with other agencies. Removing them from the “NSC principals committee” is truly alarming.

So is the inclusion of Bannon. Although the president needs political advice before making national security decisions, his decision to include his top political adviser on the NSC itself is a major error and another troubling sign for how foreign policy will be made.

Where do Rex Tillerson (State) and James Mattis (Defense) stand on this?

What does Dan Coats, the incoming DNI, think about this marginalization before he takes office?

They have to wonder if Trump, Bannon, and NSC Adviser Michael Flynn plan to run foreign policy out of the White House, with Flynn trying to dominate the Cabinet secretaries.

I had always anticipated the first big national-security fight within the Trump team would pit Mattis and Tillerson against Flynn. That may be shaping up earlier than I had anticipated, with Bannon on Flynn’s side.

(Charles Lipson commentary)