Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Usual Suspects

I've been writing and re-writing this post, because it's hard to get a handle on it.  I mean, the very idea that Rep. Schiff is right is a big pill to swallow.  But if you start there, the rest of this makes sense.  Starting with Sen. Sasse:

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a frequent Trump critic, said the President should publicly release the FISA Court order that would have been needed if his phones were legally tapped by the government. And, if Trump believes his phones were illegally monitored, he "should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he knows this," Sasse said in a statement. "We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the President's allegations today demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots," Sasse said. "A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health."

Charlie Pierce argues the sentiment behind that statement is that somehow, someway, the GOP must pin this debacle on Obama.  But that's SOP in D.C.  Until sometime long after the Saturday Night Massacre, the GOP in Congress was still trying to blame the accusers or anybody but Nixon for Watergate.  So, yeah, that's in the air; but Sasse is still not wrong.  We do need "a quest for the full truth."   There are also plenty of arguments on the web about how Trump is distracting us with his wild tweets.  But he isn't that Machiavellian, and this isn't a situation where only the pure of heart (or ideology) have insight.  The problem is not the President's critics;  the problem is the President:

The president, a spokeswoman said on ABC’s This Week, didn’t come up with the storyline out of thin air. He was echoing reports from "multiple news outlets."

"Everybody acts like President Trump is the one that came up with this idea and just threw it out there," said deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 5. "There are multiple news outlets that have reported this."
All those news outlets that deal in fake news; except when they conveniently don't.  So where did the President get his information?

Also on Monday, Sanders told NBC’s Today show that she didn’t know how Trump came believe that Obama had tapped his phones.

“I haven’t had the chance to have the conversation directly with the President and he’s at a much higher classification than I am, so he may have access to documents that I don’t know about,” she said, asked if Trump had read about wiretapping in media reports.

He doesn't have to tell you what he knows, though!  He's the President!

"Let me answer that globally," [Kellyanne Conway] said. "He is the President of the United States. He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not. And that's the way it should be for Presidents."

Which is curious, because people who actually understand how government works, like James Comey and Trey Gowdy, don't think there's anything to support these claims at all.   But what's going on here, again, is not what the President knows and when he knows it, or even how does he know it.  The problem is:  does the President understand he's the President?

"I don’t view it as the Obama team," Gowdy said. "I don't think the FBI is the Obama team, and I don't think the men and women who are career prosecutors at DOJ belong to any team other than a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales."

"We have certain tools that this country needs to keep us safe, and it is great and wise and prudent and legal for those tools to be used lawfully and appropriately,” Gowdy continued. “If they're not used lawfully and appropriately, there is a paper trail and we'll be able to find it out.”

He noted that Obama is not President any more.

“So any information that the current Department of Justice has that suggests the previous Department of Justice acted inappropriately, they are welcome to release it," Gowdy said.

A sentiment Josh Marshall underlines and adds an exclamation point to:

The President says this happened. He says he has the evidence. He knows it happened. If he knows it happened, there's nothing to investigate. The President has plenary power to declassify and publicize anything he wants. Anything. He can do it by the book or he can do it basically by fiat with no one involved at all.
Or, as Michael Hayden told Fox & Friends:

“It looks as if the President just for a moment forgot that he was President,” Hayden continued. “Why didn’t he simply use the powers of the presidency to ask the acting director of national intelligence, the head of the FBI, to confirm or deny the story he apparently read from Breitbart the evening before?”

“President Trump, in order to clear this up, could he demand to see this? Again, it would be unprecedented, but we’re in unprecedented circumstances," Hayden said.

And we're back to that whole "how government works" thing again:

"[Obama] wouldn't even be involved," Hayden said. "You stay way back from this because of the separation of powers."

And then there's the question of relying on Twitter, while we're at it:

George Washington University political historian Matt Dallek noted that Trump’s wiretapping allegations, like Spicer’s statement, were issued on Twitter.

“There’s something deeply unserious about it, except for the fact that it’s coming from the President of the United States," he told TPM. "That’s not how it works, and that’s not how the system was designed.”
As well as the whole stepping-on-his-own....tie; yeah, let's go with "tie":

Yet in this case, according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Trump is requesting that congressional intelligence committees “exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016” as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election and contacts between Russian operatives and Trump staffers. So the request attracts even more attention to a storyline that the Trump administration has repeatedly dismissed as “fake news.”

Because there's something fundamentally Constitutional in operation here:

“The investigative power of committee is a congressional tool, not a presidential tool. That the President would assume that he could essentially demand or dictate to Congress that they change the focus of an investigation is I think pretty much unprecedented," Bruce Miroff, an expert on the U.S. presidency at the University of Albany, explained. "And it is a reminder again that, to put it bluntly, Trump doesn’t understand the separation of power system.”

“You’re seeing the limits of his authority right now,” Josh Huder of Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute told TPM. “In terms of what he can tell Congress to do, he’s reached the maxed out potential for that.”

Or is he acting within the limits of his conceptual universe?

On Monday morning, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman sent out a series of tweets that, taken together, said this:

Despite Trump's public insistence while at Mar-a-Lago that he will be proven right re wiretaps, he's sounded less certain in private convos. Remember—Trump knows little about the mechanics of government, as well as separation of powers. He has assumed exec branch is not that dissimilar to how he ran Trump Tower, where he was known to tape calls etc.
I don't think the problem is that Trump is crazy like a fox and the media is too easily distracted by the next shiny story.  Trump's tweets last weekend have only focussed more attention on the Russia connection.  Trump sails blithely on to crap like this:

Because he's watching FoxNews, not because he's cleverly manipulating the media to allow him to actually function as a President.  The problem here is:  "We must accept possibility that @POTUS does not know fact from fiction, right from wrong. That wild claims are not strategic, but worse."  And accepting responsibility means, in part, looking clearly at what Trump is saying, and why he is saying it.  And it's not just because he gets his information from unreliable sources.

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