Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trump's attack on the CIA: Worse than a crime...

… it was a blunder.

So says New Yorker’s John Cassidy in Trump isolates himself with CIA attack.

On Friday evening, the Washington Post reported that the Central Intelligence Agency, in a secret assessment, had concluded that the Russian government sought to tilt last month’s election toward Trump. Trump’s transition team quickly responded with a statement disparaging the C.I.A. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement said, adding, “The election ended a long time ago…. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ “ In an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace which was broadcast on Sunday, Trump expanded on this incendiary statement, saying “nobody knows” whether it was Russian hackers who targeted Democrats and calling the suggestion that the Russians were trying to help him win “ridiculous.”

That response is totally Nixon-esque. Elections have consequences, and so does making war on your own intelligence services.

Just like that, Trump made an enemy of the intelligence community. Many intelligence professionals had already been suspicious of him—because of his disregard for facts, and because of his embrace of the retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser designate, whom some people in Washington regard as a conspiracy theorist. But this latest episode was something far more direct and personal. Never before has a President or President-elect spoken so dismissively of the C.I.A.

In taking this tack, Trump also invited his political opponents to attack him where his Administration’s grip on power will be weakest: in the U.S. Senate, where the Republicans will have a majority of just two seats. On Sunday, two Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain and Lindsey Graham—both of whom have, at times, been critical of Trump—issued a joint statement with two Democratic members of the committee, Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed, that said, “Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American…. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.”

Trump doesn’t confine himself to reality—nothing new there. For once, though, he has been called on it, and there will be more repercussions. The confirmation prospects of Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, whom Trump reportedly has settled on as his pick for Secretary of State, have been further complicated. Other nominees will also be affected: Democratic senators are sure to take their confirmation hearings as a chance to ask whether they agree with Trump’s statements about the C.I.A. and Russia. And, while that’s happening, the new Administration will find itself embroiled in hearings about the extent and impact of the Russian cyber attacks. Testifying at these hearings, senior intelligence and law-enforcement officials are likely to contradict Trump, or at least express views that diverge from his.

For anyone who had been hoping that the fabled “checks and balances” in the U.S. system wouldn’t fail us, this is just the sort of thing we want to see happening. Of course, it doesn’t mean the threat of democratic erosion has been beaten back—far from it—or that Trump won’t ride through this squall. But the reaction to his latest hissy fit does suggest that he has made his first big misstep since the election. In the phrase often attributed to Talleyrand after Napoleon ordered the summary execution of the Duke of Enghien, Trump’s attack on the C.I.A., and his refusal even to countenance the notion that Putin’s hackers sought to help him out, was “worse than a crime—it was a blunder".

Scriber thinks of Trump’s attack on the CIA in the context of the broader disregard and/or distrust of facts and the means of producing and verifying them. In Trumpworld, you make up your own facts - until your doing so causes reality to come back and bite you in the a$$.

And on top of Trump’s reaction to the CIA report, there is the matter of Trump skipping his intelligence briefings. He defended his decision by devaluing the work of the intelligence community. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog, among other sources) reports that the seriousness of Trump’s dissing the intelligence briefings is being itself dissed by Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, Priebus, Trump offer different messages on intelligence briefings.

In an interview that aired on Sunday, Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked the Republican about his disinterest in receiving classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies. “Well, I get it when I need it,” Trump replied. He added:

“I don’t have to be told – you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years. It could be eight years – but eight years. I don’t need that.

Donald Trump’s habit of skipping intelligence briefings is the subject of considerable alarm. Senators are worried; former CIA officials are worried; even President Obama is worried, telling “The Daily Show” yesterday that the president-elect will be “flying blind” without information from U.S. intelligence agencies.

But according to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who’ll soon become White House chief of staff, we have it all wrong. Here’s what Priebus told Fox News this morning:

“[Trump is] doing his intelligence briefings every day and we do the presidential briefing – I think this week we’ll have three presidential briefings in the five days.

This is getting a little confusing. First, Priebus’ explanation seems to contradict itself: Trump is receiving intelligence briefings “every day,” but the president-elect is also participating in the “presidential briefing” only three times this week? Who’s doing the intelligence briefings on the other days?

All this is compatible with Trump’s decision-making habits. Regardless of political party, Presidents (we hope) ask questions first and then take action second. Trump has it backwards. He acts first and, maybe, asks second.


There is a lighter side to everything. New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that Putin agrees to receive intelligence briefings in Trump’s place.

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—In what Donald Trump’s transition-team members are calling a further example of international coöperation, Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to receive daily U.S. intelligence briefings in the place of the President-elect.

Trump, who had earlier decided that he did not need the briefings and had assigned Vice-President-elect Mike Pence to receive them, said on Tuesday that Putin was a “much better choice.”

“No offense to Mike, but Vladimir Putin is just a terrific, terrific guy to do this,” he said. “He knows all the players.”

Trump said that, while he was “totally uninterested” in receiving the briefings, Putin appeared to be “extremely interested.”

Trump also touted his deal-making prowess in securing the Russian President’s services. “The American people are getting an amazing deal here,” he said. “Putin is doing this totally for free.”

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