Political Animal

Trump’s Attack on FBI Signals His Concern About Steele Dossier

Do you remember when Donald Trump accused his predecessor of wiretapping him? He also accused Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, of illegally unmasking the names of Trump campaign staff in intelligence reports. Both claims were proven false. Today, he did it again.

Since it was written in the form of a question, the president might claim plausible deniability that he just accused the FBI of paying for the Steele dossier. But his inference is reprehensible. He even suggests that the FBI might have colluded with the Russians (and Democrats) to produce the dossier.

There are signs that all of this is a planned strategy to create a distraction for the president. First of all, while we don’t know the names of particular individuals or groups that were involved, it has been widely reported that Fusion GPS (the firm that employed Christopher Steele) was initially hired by “Never Trump” Republicans during the 2016 primary. Once Trump won the nomination, Democratic donors funded the continuing efforts. There’s no story there.

This all started when Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a subpoena to people involved with Fusion GPS—without consulting Democrats on the committee. Beyond that, he forced them to appear before the committee yesterday to publicly state that they were pleading the fifth. It is worth noting that Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has also stated that he will plead the fifth rather than cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee. But we haven’t seen an attempt to make him come before the committee to do so.

What Nunes did reeks of an plan to create a public relations moment. Of course, Fox New cooperated.

That was followed by Trump’s tweet.

You might recall that this wouldn’t be the first time Rep. Nunes used his position on the intelligence committee to provide a distraction for Trump. He is the one who, after Trump made the allegations about being wiretapped by Obama, held a clandestine meeting in the White House with Michael Flynn protege Ezra Cohen-Watnick and then rushed to the press with allegations that he had seen intelligence reports that indicate Trump and his associates were included in electronic surveillance. That whole story eventually morphed into the allegations about Susan Rice unlawfully unmasking the names of Trump’s staff in intelligence reports.

Back when Nunes first subpoenaed people involved with Fusion GPS, Matthew Miller, former spokesperson for DOJ during the Obama administration, sent out a very prescient tweet.

Nunes issued his subpoenas to Fusion GPS less than a week after two news stories broke about the Steele dossier. The first was that Mueller’s team had taken over the investigation of the dossier from the FBI. That was immediately followed by news that investigators on Mueller’s team had recently met with Christopher Steele.

That timing could shed some light on why Nunes planned his public display of Fusion GPS pleading the fifth, followed up by Trump’s scandalous accusations about the FBI. Do you think that maybe this president is worried about the allegations contained in that dossier?

Trump Has a New Talking Point on Health Care: Block Grants

Do you remember that facepalm moment during the Republican debate when Donald Trump couldn’t talk about anything related to health care reform other than getting rid of those lines around the states?

It was clear that he knew nothing about what Obamacare actually does, but had picked up the Republican talking point about selling plans across state lines and ran with it.

Over the last week it has become clear that the president has now incorporated some new words from the Republican talking points on health care: block grants.

Monday, October 16th

So I think we will have a short-term fix with Republicans and Democrats getting together and after that have a successful vote. Because as you know, we were one vote short and I think we have the votes right now, whether it’s through block-granting the money back to the states. It’s a smaller form of government that can be more individually sensitive. That will happen fairly shortly.

Tuesday, October 17th

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We feel we have the votes, and as soon as we’re finished with taxes, John — we really feel we have the votes to get block grants into the states, where the states can much better manage this money and much better take care of the people, rather than the federal government. The state block grants — we’ll do massive block grants into the various states so that the states can run the program…

Q So is Graham-Cassidy still the plan, sir?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah, essentially that would be the plan. Yes, block grants.

Wednesday, October 18th (in a call to Sen. Lamar Alexander)

“[Trump] called me to say that he wanted to be encouraging,” Alexander said. “He intends to review [the bipartisan fix Alexander developed with Sen. Murray] carefully to see if he wants to add anything to it. And number three, he’s still for block grants, but sometime later.”

It sure looks like “block grants” are playing the same role for the president right now that “state lines” did during the primary. It is a concept he seems to have just learned and is now using to pretend that he knows something about health care policy. Honestly, it reminds me of a toddler who is in the process of expanding their vocabulary. Once they pick up a new word, they say it over and over and over again.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Trump has taken a deep dive into the various Republican proposals and thoughtfully summed up their intentions with the term “block grant.” That would be a first, wouldn’t it? The best evidence that is not likely the case is that, as Paul Waldman notes, his flip-flopping on the Alexander—Murray compromise indicates that he still doesn’t have a clue about the complexities of health care reform.

When you try to interpret the president’s shifting positions — and figure out how this is all going to end — there are a few things you have to keep in mind. First, it’s wise to assume that he has no idea how any provision of this agreement or the ACA itself actually works, and that will not change. For instance, he seems to have convinced himself that cost-sharing reductions are like an extra bonus given to insurance companies that they’ll just use to pad their profits. “That money is going to insurance companies to lift up their stock price,” he has said, when in fact the money is basically passed through the insurers to provide lower co-payments and deductibles for people with low incomes. He hasn’t bothered to learn what the law does, and he certainly isn’t going to quickly get up to speed on new proposals to provide technical fixes.

One way to prove me wrong about whether or not Trump understands the impact of block grants would be for some enterprising White House correspondent to ask the president to lay out his thoughts about what block grants would cover, how they would work, and what they would achieve. The very predictable response of a diatribe about just how dead Obamacare is right now would prove my point.

Quick Takes: Trump Takes Personal Credit For ISIS Defeat

* Here is my number one Trump outrage-of-the-day:

“I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military, I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job,” Trump said on “The Chris Plante Show.” “ISIS is now giving up, they are giving up, there are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before.”

When Plante asked why that hadn’t happened before, Trump took the bait.

“Because you didn’t have Trump as your president,” he said. “It was a big difference, there was a big, big difference if you look at the military now.”

We can point out that Trump merely continued the policy initiated by Obama. But the real outrage is that he took personal credit – not mentioning the contributions made by our military, the foreign forces who have actually been on the ground fighting, or the coordination with our allies that cut off both funds and recruitment for ISIS. In the mind of this incredibly infantile man, he did it all himself.

* When it comes to China, Trump vacillates between being deferential and threatening. Meanwhile, Anja Manuel gives us a good rundown on how “China Is Quietly Reshaping the World” via their Belt and Road initiative.

China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. By way of comparison, after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided the equivalent of $800 billion in reconstruction funds to Europe (if calculated as a percentage of today’s GDP). In the decades after the war the United States was also the world’s largest trading nation, and its largest bilateral lender to others.

Now it’s China’s turn. The scale and scope of the Belt and Road initiative is staggering. Estimates vary, but over $300 billion have already been spent, and China plans to spend $1 trillion more in the next decade or so. According to the CIA, 92 countries counted China as their largest exports or imports partner in 2015, far more than the United States at 57. What’s most astounding is the speed with which China achieved this. While the country was the world’s largest recipient of World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans in the 1980s and 90s, in recent years, China alone loaned more to developing countries than did the World Bank.

* Before you “deport ’em all” you have to “detain ’em all.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to build more jails in the United States to house additional undocumented migrants, a federal government website shows.

The agency is seeking new privately run jail sites in Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, Salt Lake City and southern Texas to house 4,000 more detainees. Requests for information were published on a federal contracting website last week.

ICE now houses between 31,000 and 41,000 detainees each day in federal prisons, privately operated facilities and local jails, according to a Department of Homeland Security report.

The agency has arrested nearly 100,000 suspected migrants since President Donald Trump took office and ordered a crackdown on unlawful immigration, according to ICE statistics — a 43 percent increase over the same time period in 2016.

* This will be just one of the results of Trump’s failure to address the needs of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

At a news conference last week, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned that without significant help, “millions” could leave for the U.S. mainland. Those leaving are most likely to end up in Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania, which have been the most popular destinations for Puerto Ricans in recent years.

* Here’s a bit of good news to balance out the day:

An elementary school in Mississippi is changing its name, scrapping former Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and replacing it with former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black commander in chief. As of last school year, the school’s student population was 96 percent black. The school-board policy in Jackson, Mississippi, says schools must be named for “persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school system,” and a “facility named to honor a person shall not be renamed except for compelling reasons.”

* Finally, I know it isn’t even Halloween yet, but at the Values Voter Summit, Trump kicked off the annual “war on Christmas” by saying that because he is president, we can now say “Merry Christmas.” That might come as news to #44.

Robert Mercer Seems Really Racist

With an assist from Charles Pierce, I came across an article in Vanity Fair that details allegations made in court filings against Robert Mercer by a former business associate named David Magerman. I am not surprised by Mercer’s banal views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its effects, but I am relieved to see Mercer’s views on what’s “not important.”

In court papers filed on Friday, Magerman argues that following a pair of phone conversations in which Mercer expressed arguably racist opinions, Magerman felt obliged to inform the press about his boss’s viewpoints—and that he received verbal assurance by Renaissance C.O.O. Mark Silber that the statements he intended to make were “permissible under company policy.” Those racist opinions, according to Magerman, included comments such as: a) The United States began to go in the wrong direction after the passage of the Civl Rights Act in the 1960s; b) African Americans were doing fine in the late-1950s and early-1960s before the Civil Rights Act; c) The Civil Rights Act “infantilized” African Americas by making them dependent on government and removing any incentive to work;d) The only racist people remaining in the United States are black; and e) White people have no racial animus toward African Americans anymore, and if there is any, is it not something that the government should be concerned with.

The best part of the filing, at least to us, was that when Magerman “point[ed] out that society was segregated before the Civil Rights Act and African Americans were required to use separate and inferior schools, water fountains, and other everyday services and items,” Mercer allegedly responded that “those issues were not important.” In a subsequent phone conversation (the “white supremacist” one), Magerman claimed Mercer initially “disputed that he had said such things, although he did not actually deny saying them” and “in the course of rehashing the conversation . . . repeated many of these same views, and even cited research that allegedly supported his opinion that the Civil Rights Act harmed African Americans economically.” (A spokesman for Renaissance declined to comment.)

I’ve heard many conservatives argue that blacks were infantilized by government assistance that arose out of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. I haven’t really seen the Civil Rights Act itself blamed before. But the basic argument isn’t novel or particularly unusual in Republican circles. It’s just that they usually have the good taste not to blame equal citizenship for this infantilization. They normally stay focused on the idea that poverty assistance had a perverse and unintended effect.

Robert Mercer may be the first person I’ve heard argue that all the depredations that blacks suffered under the Jim Crow regime were “not important.” His reasoning seems to be that blacks were “doing fine” under that regime when compared to what came after the major civil rights legislation of the 1960’s.

Even if you could find some metrics to support this argument, it’s unusual to say that the Civil Rights Act was to blame.

But this is allegedly how Robert Mercer feels, and that probably explains why he funds Breitbart News and is Trump’s biggest benefactor. The view that blacks were better off when they lacked full citizenship and that their welfare had nothing to do with their ability to vote or find housing or have equal access to public accommodations, these are not mainstream Republican or conservative views. They take a noxious and highly contentious set of beliefs about government programs and put them on racist steroids.

With this set of beliefs, you could justify doing almost anything to the black community on the premise that they’d actually be better off.

I see no particular reason to believe that Steve Bannon and Donald Trump don’t share these views with Robert Mercer, and I’d like to see them deny it.