Monday, May 29, 2017

It's getting ridiculous

Image via Indocop.

So they're not leaks coming out of the White House? Or the reporters are in the White House when they make them up?

I love the thought that he might have already completed his investigation. Like they got the entire staff together in some Trump hotel ballroom and said, "OK, who's leaking? If you've been leaking stuff to the media raise your hand." And when nobody's hand went up Trump was like, "OK, that settles that. No leakers, the press must be making shit up."

Seriously, though, what happened to the investigation?

(Another long read here...)

Way back on February 16, Trump told that famous press conference, with regard to the leaked reports of his phone calls with President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Turnbull,
we're looking at them very -- very, very serious. I've gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies and we're -- I've actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks. They're put out by people either in agencies -- I think you'll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don't have our people in because we can't get them approved by the Senate.
(Actually, of course, the executive was desperately understaffed, and still is now, for that matter, because the White House has failed to make the nominations; as of May 20 they had submitted names for 63 of 559 key positions to the Senate, and named another 14 for whom the formal nominations are still not made. The Senate has looked slow to act on those few nominations, but in many cases they can't act because of the administration's failure to get them the required ethics reports: "As of April 17, Trump had only submitted 41 percent of the nominee reports that his predecessor submitted in 2009, according to Office of Government Ethics data.")

Although he didn't seem to think those particular cases were fake, and denied that they were damaging in any way, which makes you wonder why he thought they were "criminal":
when I -- when I was called out on Mexico, I was shocked because all this equipment, all this incredible phone equipment -- when I was called out on Mexico, I was -- honestly, I was really, really surprised. But I said "you know, it doesn't make sense. That won't happen" but that wasn't that important a call, it was fine, I could show it to the world and he could show it to the world, the president who's a very fine man, by the way. Same thing with Australia.
On the other hand, several minutes earlier, he had seemed to think they were fake, and at the same time informed the public "exactly what took place," which they shouldn't have done because they were also very secret, or confidential, or classified, or something extremely important anyhow:
It's all fake news. It's all fake news. The nice thing is, I see it starting to turn, where people are now looking at the illegal -- I think it's very important -- the illegal, giving out classified information. It was -- and let me just tell you, it was given out like so much.
I'll give you an example. I called, as you know, Mexico. It was a very, very confidential, classified call. But I called Mexico. And in calling Mexico, I figured, oh, well that's -- I spoke to the president of Mexico; I had a good call. All of a sudden, it's out there for the world to see. It's supposed to be secret. It's supposed to be either confidential or classified, in that case.
Same thing with Australia. All of a sudden, people are finding out exactly what took place. The same thing happened with respect to General Flynn. Everybody saw this. And I'm saying -- the first thing I thought of when I heard about it is: How does the press get this information that's classified? How do they do it?
The snark view at the time was that he'd said the news was fake, but the leaks that produced it were real, but I don't think that captures the whole thing—it's more like he hasn't yet figured out what "fake" means, or what he wants it to mean . In general, he means "fake news" is news he doesn't want you to listen to, but he can't come up with legitimate reasons except for the news that's plainly real, in which sensitive diplomatic information might be revealed, though he insists this is not the case with those ridiculous phone calls.

And then in Brussels, a new kind of leak, when unnamed U.S. officials told news organizations (in the first place the big three US broadcast networks and Reuters) things the British government wasn't yet ready to release on Tuesday, leading to more consternation among the allies, as The Guardian explained:
Thomas Sanderson, director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies thinktank in Washington, said the disclosures would be irritating to the British. “Suddenly you’ve got 10,000 reporters descending on the bomber’s house when maybe the police wanted to approach it more subtly,” he said.
Sanderson warned of ill judgment and lack of discipline in the White House. “This is a leaky administration. What does that mean for sharing information we need to going forward? The UK and Israel are probably our two biggest sources of intelligence. Now they’re thinking, ‘Is this going to cause us damage every time we share?’ Then you have to calculate every piece of information.”
On May 25, he called on the Justice Department over this:

“The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “These leaks have been going on for a long time, and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security.”
He added, “I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and, if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The "alleged" there is a weird effect: does it mean they're afraid somebody might sue them for describing it as leaks? Presumably, though. it's just a nervous tic on the part of whoever wrote the statement, somebody like Stephen Miller who wants to sound like a lawyer but doesn't quite know how.

Here they're not talking about leaks that make Trump look bad, but something that's not Trump-related at all—nuggets of exclusive information in the currency of interaction between the officials and the press, whether the leaker is doing a favor, repaying a favor, or just making himself look valuable to the reporter, and it's pretty bad.

The thing that's really striking me, though, is the realization that there isn't going to be any leak investigation of this or anything else. The clue was in the Times reporting on the February press conference:

No law forbids a president from making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, but it is unusual for a president to direct the agency to open a criminal investigation into his perceived opponents or to talk publicly about having done so. The White House, under presidents of both parties, has generally restricted direct contact with the Justice Department about prospective investigations to avoid the appearance of politicizing law enforcement.
Typically, if an agency believes that classified material from its own records was improperly disclosed, it will make a referral to the Justice Department, which decides whether to open an investigation.
What the story doesn't say, but it's pretty clear if you think about it, is that this didn't take place; that is, the White House didn't make a referral to the Justice Department, as it legitimately might have done, according to the procedure described. What happened, as Trump explained it in the press conference, was that he may have just called somebody, very possibly his own personal house-elf Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and ordered him to "look into" the leaker situation, or maybe he didn't but intended to, or just thought it would sound good, but what didn't happen was the launch of an investigation, because the government is unable to work that way. The emperor may believe that his word is his command (the way he thinks Barack Obama personally put a "tapp" on him), but it's not.

There really can't be an investigation of White House staff leaking, because it's not just people hostile to the president who are doing it, it's the whole operation of his capos and lieutenants all the way up to himself:

The leaks, including leaks of classified information, including by Trump himself, are a central feature of the way this administration does or fails to do its work, more, probably, than any administration in history (though the W. Bushes were pretty bad indeed, which is part of the reason the press got so hostile to the Obama White House, in the way pigeons used to fattening themselves on the bread crumb donations of batty old pensioners might react to some new people coming in to police the sidewalk and force them to go back to finding their own healthier food). It's not Trump enemies who leaked the Manchester bomber's name, either. Any serious investigation of White House leaking would implicate Trump and all his friends, and that's why there won't be one.

Which in turn is sort of why Trump has now abandoned that weird oscillation between calling them leaks (implying the stories are true) and calling them fakes (implying they're false). He's finally come to understand that every time he refers to leaked information he's lending credence to what's being said. Calling it fiction is all he's got left.

Incidentally, Kurt Eichenwald says every single time Trump has called "fake news" on a story since Election Day the story turns out to have been true:

I find it hard to believe Trump has that perfect a record of error, but I certainly can't think of a case that proves Eichenwald wrong.

Since the emperor is now calling #fakenews on the recent revelations on Jared Kushner's Russian connections—including the confirmation that he is the White House aide under FBI scrutiny and the news of more meetings with Ambassador Kislyak as well as the banker Sergey Gorkov (who is both the CEO of the state-owned Vnesheconombank, which Kushner was trying to recruit to help finance the Kushners' troubled property at 666 Fifth Avenue and which is also connnected all sorts of ways with the FSB intelligence agency—Gorkov himself is a graduate of the FSB's training school), and then that last December he was trying to persuade Kislyak to help him set up a communications channel between him, private citizen Jared Kushner, and the Kremlin, secret from the US government, using Russian diplomatic facilities, the same project money launderer Erik Prince was working on in secret meetings in the Seychelles in January, with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates—since the emperor has called this all fake, we can be pretty sure it's true.

Of course it's also confirmed by National Security Advisor McMaster and Homeland Security Secretary Kelly coming out to say it's not a big deal, which is wrong, but reality-based. The big news here may be that they don't even respond to the alternate reality described in Trump's tweets any more. He's so far out of the loop they can't pretend.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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