Every time I think this administration has hit rock bottom, it begins to dig.
So it was with the recent revelation that the Russian government has been paying bounties on the heads of American soldiers to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and criminal gangs associated with them. ($100,000 apiece, by some accounts.)
This is an outrage, of course. But it is nothing next to the outrage that the Trump administration, and almost surely President Donald Trump himself, has known about it since at least February (and by some accounts, over a year ago, in March 2019) and DONE NOTHING ABOUT IT.
As in zero, zilch, nada, nil, ничего, bupkes.
As I tire of writing week after week, that would be a presidency-ending scandal in any previous administration, Republican or Democratic.
The intelligence is highly credible. US servicemembers are known to have been killed during this period, some in especially suspicious green-on-blue attacks by Taliban infiltrators. Following the money a la Deep Throat, US intelligence has forensically tracked the transfer of cash from the Russian security services to Taliban groups. Even if there remained a scintilla of doubt, the evidence is sufficient to confront Russia at the very least.
Instead, during that period, Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin at least six times and did not utter even a peep of protest. On the contrary, he stumped for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of 7 and unilaterally offered an invitation over the objections of the other members. He also impulsively decided to pull US troops out of Germany, where they have been stationed since 1945, an enormous gift to the Kremlin.
What possible reason could Trump have for this headsnappingly horrific behavior?
As usual, he denies that the story is true, calling it a Democratic hoax designed to deny him the re-election that the American people are clamoring (Just look at his sky-high poll numbers)! Meanwhile, out of the other side of is sphincter-like mouth, he insists that he simply wasn’t told about the bounties.
Here’s one tweet:
The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!
His minions have also variously claimed that the intel was unconfirmed or at least not solid enough to be actionable.
Guess who else backs up Trump’s claim that the story is false? Vladimir Putin. Which, per the Helsinki Precedent (a great Robert Ludlum book), is usually good enough for Don.
Speaking from my own very modest muddy boots background in military intelligence, here’s a note to aspiring secret agents, spies, and traitors:
You have to at least act like you’re not working for the enemy.
I NEED THOSE BOOTS BACK ON, ‘CAUSE THE SHIT’S GETTING DEEP
Let’s dismantle these bullshit excuses one at a time.
The story’s not true? Its credibility has already been established, per above. Incendiary intel like that doesn’t even rise to the Oval Office level unless the Intelligence Community has a very high degree of confidence that it is correct.
He wasn’t told?
He was certainly told.
John Bolton says he briefed Trump on this bounty scandal A YEAR AGO—yet another thing Johnny has kept under his mustache. Salon reports that “The information was also included in at least one Presidential Daily Brief, according to the AP, CNN and The Times. The AP earlier reported that it was also included in a second Presidential Daily Brief earlier this year and that current national security adviser Robert O’Brien discussed the matter with Trump.”
Even though we know Trump doesn’t read the PDB, sloth and negligence are no excuse.
The intel wasn’t confirmed or actionable? Again, that’s not simply how this works. The intel would not have been in the President’s Daily Brief were it not credible enough to bring to his attention for possible action; that’s what PDB is for. (Two of the best takedowns of this ridiculous line of defense were from retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey and former CIA analyst turned Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who used to write PDBs).
Moreover, as former National Security Adviser and UN Ambassador Susan Rice writes in a scathing New York Times op-ed, “the administration reportedly informed the British government, and the National Security Council convened an interagency meeting in March to discuss the intelligence and its implications.”
Sounds pretty confirmed and actionable to me.
Lastly, before any and all of those six conversations Trump had with Putin, it’s inconceivable that his staff did not arm him with all the pertinent information regarding US-Russian relations. Even if Trump did not yet know that Russia was paying for American scalps, as he offered giftwrapped presents to Moscow like readmission to the G-7 and an American withdrawal from USAREUR, is it plausible that not one of his advisors was sufficiently alarmed by these actions and thought to inform him then????
Of course it’s not plausible.
What’s much more plausible, and indeed likely, is that Trump continued to serve as Putin’s poodle even with full knowledge that the man was ordering US soldiers hunted like dogs.
BELLY UP TO THE JUICE BAR
Needless to say, the Kool-Aid Brigade nevertheless continues to cling to its story like Sanford Clark.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany—while contorted in a yoga pose known as Peroxide Cobra—simultaneously backed up Trump’s claim that he is an incompetent ignoramus while also insisting that he is “the most informed person on Planet Earth” when it comes to threats to US national security. (Pointedly, she did not say that the intel was wrong.)
Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien risibly claimed in an interview with Fox that the president’s senior CIA briefer simply “decided not to share this info” with him. (Then again, O’Brien also told CNN last month that there is no systemic racism in US law enforcement. So that happened.)
The partisan shitbag who serves as DNI, former Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas, best known for chewing the scenery during the impeachment, also insists Trump and Pence were not informed.
But at the end of the day, of course, even the idea that Trump didn’t know or wasn’t told—while beggaring belief—would be damning. What kind of presidency would that be, where the head of state was not told such a thing?
As The Bulwark‘s Jonathan V. Last points out, “(F)or the president to offer ‘No one told me about this big important thing’ as a defense is an advertisement for weakness. It’s an admission that he has no control of his own government.”
And even more obviously, at the very least TRUMP KNOWS NOW!
Susan Rice again:
If Mr. Trump was told about Russian actions, why did he not respond? If he was not told, why not? Are his top advisers utterly incompetent? Are they too scared to deliver bad news to Mr. Trump, particularly about Russia? Is Mr. Trump running a rogue foreign policy utterly divorced from US national interests? If so, why?
Setting aside for a moment the credibility of that claim (that he wasn’t told), whenever the president learned of this deeply troubling intelligence, why did he not publicly condemn any Russian efforts to kill American soldiers and explore options for a swift and significant US response?
Exactement. Have we heard Trump announce to the American people that this will not stand and then watch him get on the red phone and rip Putin a new one?
Nope. Instead, he rails at “leakers”…..another dead giveaway that the story is true.
If only for purposes of optics, one would think Donald Trump would at least feign outrage, bluster (which he’s good at) about the hell he will raise, and PRETEND to give a fuck.
But no. Crickets.
Seriously, people: can we NOW throw this motherfucker out of office????
FINGER LICKIN’ DERELICTION
Is there any obligation more basic for an American president than to safeguard the lives of American citizens who are in harm’s way on behalf of the nation?
It’s hard to imagine much worse. (Maybe letting 130,000 Americans die due to your incompetence and malevolence?) I used to say Trump could wipe his ass with the flag on national TV and his fans would find a way to defend and even applaud it. That is not far off from what he is doing.
Remember the GOP outrage over Benghazi, which even in its worst interpretation doesn’t even approach the outrageousness of this affair, the years of hearings and millions of taxpayers dollars that resulted in no evidence of wrongdoing by Secretary of State Clinton?
I look forward to similar red state outrage now. Ahem.
Tribalism and the knee-jerk appeal of fake machismo notwithstanding, I’ve never understood military people who support or defend this man. At this point, there is no possible way anyone can continue to back him except by wanton, blind defiance of the facts. Or if you’re rooting for Russia.
Even some Republicans have turned. The blazing fast and always incisive Lincoln Project continued its trend of being chief thorn in Trump’s side by releasing a scalding ad featuring Annapolis grad, former SEAL officer turned ER physician Dr. Dan Barkhuff who asks, bluntly: “Mr. Trump, you’re either a coward who can’t stand up to an ex-KGB goon, or you’re complicit. Which is it?”
As Nancy Pelosi says, the only consistency in Trump’s foreign “policy” is bootlicking eagerness to please Vladimir Putin. We can set aside inquiring as to the reasons why for another day. The effect is what is so deeply troubling. As Dr. Rice notes, Trump did not even take the mildest of measures, lodging a diplomatic protest. “Now Mr. Putin knows he can kill Americans with impunity.”
Can we finally just face the fact that Trump is either a Russian asset or might as well be?
Even stopping short of that, his unfitness for office has never been on more glaring display. I don’t know about you, but I can think of 52 Republican Senators who ought to have to go door to door to the homes of the Gold Star families of fallen US soldiers killed in Afghanistan and explain why they voted to keep this criminal, fake president in office last February.
Trump is in trouble. Atop the pandemic, the New Depression, the Uprising, and now the latest Russian scandal, will this finally be the end???? Who knows.
Meanwhile, he spends his time defending statues to Confederate generals, lending credence to the Huffington Post’s contention that the presidency he is running for is that of the Confederacy.
As the hashtag goes, #ProtectMarinesNotStatues.
Let’s go back to Dr. Rice one last time:
What must we conclude from all this? At best, our commander in chief is utterly derelict in his duties, presiding over a dangerously dysfunctional national security process that is putting our country and those who wear its uniform at great risk. At worst, the White House is being run by liars and wimps catering to a tyrannical president who is actively advancing our arch adversary’s nefarious interests.
There’s nothing else left to say, except that any American who continues to support and defend this cretinous excuse for a president is complicit in his crimes.
Coward. Murderer. Traitor.
Happy Fourth of July everybody.
Illustration courtesy of Peter Schink, by way of David Carter. Thanks to Jim Bernfield for pointing me to the Lincoln Project’s Dan Barkhuff spot.