Friday Talking Points -- That Thing That Trump Did

We'd like to begin today by apologizing for not including whatever scandal broke while we were writing this column. It takes us hours to write these, and while we're typing we're not reading news headlines. So this weekly wrapup will doubtlessly not mention whatever scandal broke in the past few hours, and for this we apologize. We would direct you to the final talking point today to cover this lapse (from which we also borrowed our subtitle today, because Daniel Drezner's article is such a hilarious piece of satire).

Think that's overstating the case? We don't. While we were busy writing up notes today, the following story appeared:

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter. The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.

Good thing we double-checked the headlines before we started writing, in other words, because the Scandalpalooza that is the Trump White House is now generating fresh outrages on an almost hourly basis. OK, that might be overstating the case slightly, but not by much. Consider just one twelve-hour period in the middle of last week alone:

For any president, one of these headlines would be very bad news. For President Trump, they all came in a span of 12 hours: "Justice Department to appoint special counsel to oversee probe of Russian meddling in 2016 election" "House majority leader told colleagues last year: 'I think Putin pays' Trump" "Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed -- after being paid as its agent" "Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House" "Israeli Source Seen as Key to Countering Islamic State Threat" "Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians -- sources" It was a dizzying Wednesday night for political reporters and followers alike, with a bevy of new information being thrown at them on multiple fronts. And it continued into early Thursday morning with that last headline, from Reuters.

That's not quite a scandal an hour, but it's close enough for government work (as they say).

Following all this has gotten exhausting. So we'd like to take everyone on a fantasy interlude to an alternate reality where Hillary Clinton is president. It's a dark fantasy, however, because this week it was revealed that President Clinton pressured her F.B.I. director to lock up some journalists who had written stories about confidential leaks from her administration. She thought it'd send a message and serve as an example to other reporters, to scare them into not writing such stories.

Imagine for just one tiny moment what the reaction from a Republican Congress would have been. To say nothing of Fox News. If that story had broken early in the week, the House would have immediately drawn up a bill of impeachment, which likely would have been approved in a floor vote by week's end. The mainstream media wouldn't have anything nice to say about Hillary, because attacking reporters usually causes them to circle the wagons in a big way.

Back to reality. This scenario isn't total fantasy, because that was indeed reported about Donald Trump this week -- and people barely noticed. Including the media! As a minor footnote to a bigger scandal story, the New York Times reported: "Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information." The reason why this news was such small potatoes is that so many other scandals were breaking it was impossible to keep up. If Hillary Clinton had done one-one-hundredth of the things Trump has managed in his first four months in office, she would definitely have been impeached by the Republican House by now.

Hopefully, with Trump out of the country for all of next week, the pace will slow down somewhat. But then again, who knows? Trump is going to talk to the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Palestinians -- what could possibly go wrong with any of that?

Afterwards, Trump will sit in on a NATO meeting. NATO is preparing for this, according to Foreign Policy, by dumbing everything down to Trump's level. From the story:

NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump's notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to two to four minutes at a time during the discussion, several sources inside NATO and former senior U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. And the alliance scrapped plans to publish the traditional full post-meeting statement meant to crystallize NATO's latest strategic stance. . . . "It's kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump," said one source briefed extensively on the meeting's preparations. "It's like they're preparing to deal with a child -- someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They're freaking out."

His own advisors seem to be having similar problems, according to Reuters:

Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span. He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos. National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with N.S.C. officials.

So, again -- what could possibly go wrong?

Whoops! The mini-scandals are already happening surrounding Trump's Israel visit. The White House has already told Israel that "Trump's visit to the Western Wall was private, Israel did not have jurisdiction in the area and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not welcome to accompany Trump there." This was pretty shocking news to the Israelis, especially that bit about them having no jurisdiction in the area. Trump also cancelled a trip to Masada because he wasn't allowed to land a helicopter on top of the ancient fortress ruins, and announced his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum would be cut to only 15 minutes. Nothing like being a diplomatic guest, eh?

But we've got way too much to cover, so we've got to shift into lightning mode, and just briefly touch on the low points of the week. At this point, lightning mode is the only way anyone has of keeping up, really. Seatbelts buckled? Then here we go....

President Trump gave away secret intelligence to the Russians in the Oval Office, and by doing so might have compromised an very valuable Israeli source within the Islamic State.

Republican hypocrisy (1): Paul Ryan, from last year's campaign: "No one should be above the law. But based upon the director's own statement, it appears damage is being done to the rule of law. Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent. The findings of this investigation also make clear that Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions." No such statement on Trump's reckless mishandling of national security information appeared this week.

Republican hypocrisy (2): Trump himself, from the campaign trail (July): "So how can Hillary Clinton be briefed on this unbelievably delicate information when it was just proven that she lied and that her server shouldn't have had it and that they're missing 33,000 emails and that's just the beginning.... I don't think that it's safe to have Hillary Clinton, in light of what just happened, and in light of what we just found out, I don't think it's safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security because the word will get out." And again, in September: "We can't have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential."

Republican hypocrisy (3): Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, last year: "She betrayed her country by exposing national security information to risk by our adversaries. That is a criminal offense. That makes it an impeachable offense. She probably has committed an impeachable offense, therefore she probably should be impeached. But in all likelihood she won't be because Congress doesn't have the political will to do so."

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse took the opportunity to taunt all this Republican hypocrisy on Twitter: "Hillary emails have harmless 'classified' info; Republicans chant 'lock her up.' Trump reveals real secrets to Russians; Rs say what??"

James Comey not only took meticulous notes after every contact with Donald Trump, he also apparently prepared in advance (in a "murder board" prep session) so he could gently inform the president if he tried to suggest anything unethical or flat-out illegal. In more than one such meeting, Trump pressured him to back off the Russia investigation, and to "let Flynn go."

Comey has reached rock-star status in Washington, and congressional committees are reportedly vying with each other as to who can book him for public testimony first. One House committee announced it had scheduled time on Wednesday for Comey to testify, but Comey hasn't agreed to this yet, so it's anyone's guess which hearing he'll pop up at first.

Aside: If Donald Trump goes down in flames for any of this, he will have only himself to blame. Trump is -- easily -- his own worst enemy, and we don't expect this to change any time soon.

Vladimir Putin is laughing his ass off right now, and also trying out his hand at comedy, by offering to provide Congress with a transcript of the Oval Office meeting. Thanks, and don't forget to tip your waitress, folks!

Wednesday: [See "12 hours" bullet list, above.]

Afterwards, even with all the Flynn revelations, Trump seemed absolutely delusional about the prospects of eventually bringing him back to the White House, it appears:

Several sources [said] Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the F.B.I.'s investigation in Flynn's favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House... a scenario some of Trump's closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen. "Trump feels really, really, really bad about firing him, and he genuinely thinks if the investigation is over Flynn can come back," said one White House official. One former F.B.I. official and a second government official said Trump thought he owed Flynn for how things ended up and was determined to clear Flynn's name and bring him back to the White House.

Trump not only confirmed his delusional belief this week that firing James Comey would be met with bipartisan applause, but the White House also indicated another rather bizarre attempt at reaching out to Democrats -- Joe Lieberman is apparently Trump's top pick to replace Comey at the F.B.I. Joe Freakin' Lieberman! Yeah, that'll get a lot of Senate confirmation votes from the other side of the aisle....

Trump also played the "big baby victim" card this week, whining to the Coast Guard graduates: "You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly." Trump later tweeted: "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" and: "With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed!" Whaaaah! Later, at a mini-press conference, Trump continued his tantrum: "I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt."

At the end of the week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed both the Senate and the House on the Comey firing. In preparation for these meetings, Rosenstein named Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate all things Trump. In the meetings, Rosenstein said he already knew Trump was going to fire Comey before he even wrote his now-infamous memo.

Lindsey Graham emerged from the Rosenstein meeting and said: "It was a counterintelligence investigation until now. It seems to me now to be considered a criminal investigation."

Whew! Finally, we get to the end of the week. Although, as we've already said, we cannot possibly know what news is breaking while we're busy writing all of this.

Two non-Trump news items are also worth mentioning. John McCain is calling for the Turkish ambassador to be thrown out of the U.S., after protesters were violently beaten outside the Turkish embassy this week by Turkish security men.

And the Environmental Protection Agency asked for public comments on how they could slash environmental regulations to make everyone's lives better, and they got an earful in response -- over 55,000 responses. Here's the sort of thing people had to say:

"Know your history or you'll be doomed to repeat it," one person wrote. "Environmental regulations came about for a reason. There is scientific reasoning behind the need for it. It is not a conspiracy to harm corporations. It's an attempt to make the people's lives better." "Have we failed to learn from history, and forgotten the harm done to our air, water, and wetlands?" wrote Karen Sonnessa from New York. "If anything, regulations need to be more stringent. I remember the days of smog, pollution, and rivers spontaneously combusting. E.P.A. is for the people." One commenter simply wrote the word "No" over and over, 1,665 times.

Which brings us to our final item, which is another large number. The Washington Post has put up a fun "Fact Checker" page which graphically shows the history of Donald Trump's propensity to lie. As of this writing, the total is up to a whopping 586 whoppers in only 119 days. Another record Trump can brag about breaking!

We fully admit we've always been suckers for brilliantly hilarious (or hilariously brilliant?) political street theater when considering who deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, and this week is no exception.

Our MIDOTW award goes to "projection artist" Robin Bell. Here's the whole amusing story:

For a few minutes Monday night, projection artist Robin Bell tried to bring attention to the issue by shining light on it -- a big, blue light. Bell parked his van about 9:15 p.m. on 12th Street NW across the street from the west entrance of the Trump International Hotel. Bell and two friends then turned on a projector in the van and displayed animated anti-Trump messages about the president's alleged conflicts of interest onto the upscale hotel's facade. Hotel security ordered him to shut off the projections after only a few minutes, but it was enough time for the messages to go viral on social media, garnering thousands of posts on Twitter and Facebook. "That is one of the big things that I'm trying to do -- using our artwork to explain these stories that are tricky," said Bell, an artist and filmmaker based in the District. "If someone can laugh and look at something, and then talk about it." The projections focused on the Constitution's emoluments clause, which says that no person holding a federal office shall "accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State." Others read "emoluments welcome here" and "pay Trump bribes here." Bell said the projections lasted about six minutes, and he was able to keep the projections going while a security guard talked to him about taking them down. His favorite part of the night came, he said, when an open-top tour bus drove by and riders started to cheer.

The article has a photo of the "Pay Trump bribes here" message, which is absolutely priceless.

For coming up with the idea to make a political statement without actually vandalizing property, for coming up with such prime snark in the messages themselves, and for pulling it all off without a hitch, we proudly award Robin Bell this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Well done, Mr. Bell, well done indeed!

One final note, while looking up his contact information, we found the Bellvisuals website, which contains an image of a previous display on the Trump hotel: "Experts agree: Trump is a pig". If we had been aware of this one when it happened, we would have cheerfully awarded him the MIDOTW back then, not just for doing it but also for the historic knowledge of one of the best Washington pranks of all time: the "Experts agree: Meese is a pig" flyer, from Ronald Reagan's time in office. Once again: well done! Bravo!

[Congratulate Robin Bell via his Bellvisuals contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

OK, before we get to the obvious choice this week, we've got to put on our "Grammar Police" hat for a moment. In an article about the Democratic Party getting its panties in a bunch over whether Bernie Sanders was going to run for president in 2020, there was the following quote, from a "longtime senior party official," whining about Bernie: "He's a constant reminder. He allows the healing that needs to take place to not take place."

[Sound of our jaw dropping on the floor.]

Seriously? You're a senior Democratic Party official and the best you could come up with was: "He allows the healing that needs to take place to not take place"? Wow. Maybe it's a Bill Clinton appointee, since that has a certain "Clintonian" parsing about it? We sincerely hope whomever said this is not in any way shape or form responsible for Democratic "messaging," because that sentence was pure gibberish.

Hmmph. OK, removing Grammar Police hat....

Anthony Weiner is, apparently the gift that keeps on giving. Which is why we're giving him his seventh Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award (incidentally, on the all-time list, this moves him ahead of such stalwarts of bad behavior as Jay "Rocky IV" Rockefeller IV, Rahm Emanuel, and Rod Blagojevich, who each only have six MDDOTW awards to their name).

Here's the sordid penultimate chapter to this drama, in full detail:

Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, the disgraced politician whose "sexting" scandals shattered his career, admitted Friday in federal court to sending sexual material to a 15-year-old girl. Weiner, 52, pleaded guilty to transferring obscene material to a minor -- a crime that will require him to register as a sex offender and could mean years in prison. "I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse," he told the court. "I apologize to everyone I have hurt. I apologize to the teenage girl, whom I mistreated so badly." . . . The criminal charge -- transferring obscenity to a minor -- carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, according to federal authorities. Under the plea deal, Weiner agreed to register as a sex offender and not to appeal a sentence between 21 and 27 months in prison. His sentencing hearing is set for Sept. 8. "Weiner's conduct was not only reprehensible, but a federal crime, one for which he is now convicted and will be sentenced," Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement.

This is all especially relevant this week, with all the attention on James Comey. Because, if you'll remember back, this latest "can't keep it in your pants" scandal from the appropriately-named Weiner (his third such public sexting scandal, for those keeping count at home) led directly to much bigger consequences for everyone:

During a federal investigation, agents seized a laptop that Weiner had shared with his estranged wife, Huma Abedin, who was a top Hillary Clinton aide. On the laptop, agents discovered numerous emails that Clinton had sent to Abedin, prompting an announcement from then-F.B.I. Director James B. Comey in the days leading up to the presidential election that the agency was reopening its investigation into Clinton's emails. Comey then announced that no charges would be brought in the case. But Clinton, and others, have said the scandal was partly the reason she lost the presidential election to Donald Trump.

So thanks for all that, Anthony. Thanks a whole lot. Two years in the pokey seems like a rather light punishment, at least to us.

[Anthony Weiner is now a private citizen and our policy is not to provide information on such persons, sorry.]

Volume 437 (5/19/17)

It's been one of those weeks when we could easily have filled up the talking points solely with what Republicans are saying about their president, which makes it so much easier on Democrats (all you have to do is quote a conservative in weeks like this one).

In fact, it was so easy this week to find critical things Republicans were saying, most of the following were uttered (or tweeted) by Tuesday -- after the "secrets to Russia in the Oval Office" scandal broke, but before the "Comey took notes" story broke.

We did have to stick one funny one in at the end, just because we know quite well how exhausting this week has been for politics-watchers. So we thought everyone deserved a good laugh, to end with.

A downward spiral

[These first four are all from the same omnibus column, we should mention.] Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is also the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke about the Trump White House early in the week.

Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening. The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating... a worrisome environment.

Step down

These next three are all tweets from Republicans, all immediately after the "secrets to Russia in the Oval Office" scandal hit the news. The first is from David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. He certainly doesn't mince words:

The president should resign.


From Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department advisor to Condoleezza Rice:

This is appalling. If accidental, it would be a firing offense for anyone else. If deliberate, it would be treason.

Deeply disturbing

Senator John McCain was a little more reserved in his reaction. But not much:

If true, deeply disturbing...

Useful fool

Michael Hayden took the time to write an opinion piece rather than just tweet his reaction. This one's a throwback for anyone who remembers Cold War terminology. Hayden is now "a principal at the Chertoff Group and visiting professor at George Mason University" and was also head of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency during George W. Bush's time in office.

In November, a few days before the election, I tried to parse Donald Trump's strange affection for Vladimir Putin and the various contacts that members of his campaign had had with folks in Russia. The best explanation I could come up with was something the Russians call polezni durak, the "useful fool." That's a term from the Soviet era describing the naive individual whom the Kremlin usually held in contempt but who could be induced to do things on its behalf. Six months later, it is disappointing to report, the term "useful fool" still seems a pretty apt description.

It's time to quit!

OK, we had a few short tweets today, so we're balancing it out with a long one to close this "Republican-on-Republican violence" theme. Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant and current columnist for the Daily Beast, wrote an extraordinary letter to everyone who works for Donald Trump. This jaw-dropping column was titled: "If you work for Trump, it's time to quit: After the Comey firing and the Russia intel leak, the I'm-taking-one-for-the-team ship has sailed." This, from a guy who describes himself as: "a Republican political consultant for almost 30 years," no less! Here's an extended excerpt from this scathing article, which is well worth reading in full:

Whether you're a 20-something fresh off the campaign trail, or a seasoned Washington insider serving in the Cabinet, by now you're painfully aware that you're not making America great again; you're barely making it to the end of the daily news cycle before your verbally incontinent boss, the putative leader of the free world, once again steers the proverbial car into a ditch. On every front, you're faced with legal, political and moral hazards. The president's job, and yours, is a lot harder than it looked, and you know the problem originates in the Oval Office. You hate that people are shying away from administration jobs in droves: Just this week, in rapid succession, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Trey Gowdy withdrew their names from consideration as replacements for former F.B.I. Director James Comey, the guy your boss fired. Whatever department you're in, it's a safe bet that it's a whispering graveyard of empty appointments and unfilled jobs. . . . Trump's fumbles have left many members of Congress ducking town hall meetings like they're in the witness protection program. The tax bill and the rest of Trump's agenda are deader and more pungent than six-day-old fish. Maybe your particular bureau is still afloat, but you're really not doing much except playing defense and wondering which of your colleagues is leaking to The Washington Post. You learned quickly that your job isn't actually to serve the nation, manage your agency or fulfill the role you ostensibly play according to the White House org chart. In reality, you spend most of your time fluffing Trump's ego. Either that or you're making excuses for not being a more aggressive suck-up. . . . So, ask yourself: When this regime falls, do you want to be among those who said "not me," or do you want to go out like a Ba'ath Party generalissimo? Sticking with Trump to the bitter end and pretending the unfolding chaos is just "fake news" won't save your reputation as the walls close in. It won't ease the judgment of history. It won't do anything to polish up your future Wikipedia entry. Cutting ties with a man who is destructive to our values, profoundly divisive, contemptuous of the rule of law and incontrovertibly unfit to serve in the highest office in the land just might. Do it now.


As promised, we've got some humor to end on. Daniel Drezner, the author of the "Spoiler Alerts" blog at the Washington Post, is heading out on the road to push his new book. So he left behind a "Generic White House Scandal Column Generator" to fill in. This deserves a freakin' Pulitzer -- or at the very least a comedy award of some sort or another. We encourage everyone to read the full hilarious article. Enjoy!

Link to bombshell news story here documenting [THAT THING TRUMP DID]. Quote from bombshell story: . . . Embed salient 1980s movie chestnut/Star Wars/Star Trek reference that effortlessly connects to [THAT THING TRUMP DID.] Paragraph relaying White House denials of [THAT THING TRUMP DID]. Subsequent links to [WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, BUZZFEED] stories that corroborate the original report. Additional links to [POLITICO, AXIOS, DAILY BEAST, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST] stories composed of White House staff providing variations of how Trump is a toddler and can't be managed but they could totally do a better job of it if other idiot staffers weren't giving him lousy advice. Quote from conservative commentator for whom [THAT THING TRUMP DID] is the final straw for at least two weeks. Paragraph with quotes from [BREITBART, THE FEDERALIST, NRO] in which anti-anti-Trumpers suggest that the mainstream media hasn't reported [THAT THING TRUMP DID] accurately at all. Tweets from Trump confirming everything in the initial bombshell story and undercutting everyone who played down the story in public. . . . Close with witty comment about how [THAT THING TRUMP DID] will at least distract the media from [THAT THING TRUMP DID YESTERDAY]. Copy-edit. Select the correct photo/caption/headline. Drain large bottle of whiskey. Repeat as necessary.

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