It’s Right Outside Our Door, Now Testify
The Senate hearings for the members of the Cabinet of Doom began last week. Outside of an evil version of my daughter’s preschool class taking over, it’s hard to imagine a more incompetent and troubling group running our country.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news (although, I guess I don’t, since this publication is 95% bad news), but every Cabinet nominee will likely be approved. The last two nominees actually voted down were in 1989 (George H.W. Bush appointee and Dem controlled Senate) and 1959 (Eisenhower appointee and Dem controlled Senate). What normally happens is that the political pressure becomes too great and the President-elect pulls a nominee. However, the world we are in is not normal. Trump has shown that there are no repercussions to ignoring pressure or to choosing not to do the right thing. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he pulls a nominee. The Republican-controlled Senate will likely not deny Trump on his nominees (plus they also hate things like the EPA, Dept of Education, and Dept of Energy, so don’t mind if they’re a mess).
The only possible loss might be nominee Rex Tillerson because a few Republicans still are not on-board Trump’s Siberian Express and do not want a Russian Order of Friendship winner as Secretary of State.
So with the background that this is mainly kabuki theater, below are the lowlights from the two big hearings this week.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) – Attorney General
- When asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) if a secular person has just as a good claim to understanding the truth as a religious person, Sen. Session said, “Well, I’m not sure.”
- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has a delightful back and forth with our future face of justice:
“You said at a hearing that you’re not sure women or people of different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination [that would constitute at hate crime]. And then you said, ‘I just don’t see it.’”
Sessions replied, “Having discussed that issue at some length, that does not sound like something I said or intended to say.”
Leahy then pointed out, “Well, you did say it.”
- Senator Al Franken (D-MN), who was the toughest on Sessions, inquired of our soon to be legal affairs leader, “What do you think would have caused you to say that you ‘filed 20-30 desegregation cases’ when you really didn’t?”
- In an unprecedented move, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) testified against his fellow senator in a hearing. In what will likely be the central part of his stump speech at scores of pancake feasts and pig roasts over the next four years from Cedar Rapids to Sioux City, Booker said, “In a choice between standing with Senate norms and standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country.”
- Congressman and Civil Rights hero Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) also testified against Sessions. More on him later – however, as MoveOn.org Senior Advisor Karine Jean-Pierre said, “When civil rights icon Representative John Lewis testifies against you, that person should really start thinking about how they have lived their life.”
Rex Tillerson – Former CEO of Exxon – Secretary of State
- Said he won’t release his tax returns.
- Shoulda Coulda Woulda VP, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked Tillerson about Exxon funding anti-climate change propaganda. Tillerson’s non-answers led Kaine to ask, “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question or are you refusing to answer my question?” Tillerson replied, “A little of both.”
- Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has apparently completed his reboot from when his hard drive crashed at the New Hampshire primary debates, took on Tillerson hard. Rubio pressed him on whether Putin was a war criminal and whether he would lift Russian sanctions. Tillerson didn’t agree with the former, and was non-committal on the latter.
- Tillerson said that Exxon did not lobby against Russian sanctions. Tillerson had to be reminded by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) that he in fact called Corker regarding the sanctions. You’d think that Tillerson would remember that. The Wall Street Journal reporter Bryan Tau notes that there are 14 lobbying reports in which Exxon noted it lobbied against sanctions. You’d think the CEO would know that.
- In response to a question from Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), he said, “I don’t think anyone advocates for more nuclear weapons on the planet.” Apparently, he forgot about Donald “let it be an arms race” Trump.
- Tillerson told Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) that he had not had in-depth talks with Trump about Russia’s actions in Syria. Which is sadly not surprising.
The Washington Post: Donald Trump’s Cabinet confirmation hearings, in 5 minutes
|Fool’s Gold(en Shower)
The big pierogi of the week is a 35 page dossier thatBuzzfeed
released this week with unverified claims of Trump becoming a Russian asset for at least five years. Accusations range from the serious – that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians on the hacks – to the salacious (and still serious) that the Russians have blackmail on Trump for things like paying prostitutes to pee on a hotel bed at the Moscow Ritz that the Obamas had allegedly slept in years earlier.
No one is sure how much is true, but the source is former MI6 officer Steele, Christopher Steele. Steele has a strong reputation; his earlier work took down FIFA President Sepp Blatter on corruption charges. He was hired to research Trump by low energy Jeb Bush and later by the Democrats. The intelligence community thought highly enough about the dossier to debrief Trump and President Obama on it – something I doubt they did when Trump claimed he had evidence that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
As details come out, this dossier threatens both the Trump presidency as well as the FBI. Wait, the FBI too? How? Just sit right back and let me tell you a tale.
Senator John McCain passed on the dossier to the FBI in early December after obtaining it through somecloak and dagger work of his own. Shockingly, FBI Director James Comey had been sitting on a copy of the dossier since late summer. Steele had shared it with the FBI, but the FBI did nothing with it. Steele believed there was a cover-up as the FBI was obsessed with those pesky Clinton emails. In a closed session with Congress this week, Comey said he couldn’t comment on the FBI investigation on Trump as he wouldn’t comment on ongoing investigations (unless, of course, they are those pesky emails and would tip the outcome of the election). Democrats are enraged. Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA) said Comey, “has no credibility.”
Trump’s responses to the dossier have been measured as always. He combated the dossier by:
- Lashing out at the media, the Democrats, and the Intelligence Community.
- Tweeting that “Russia says nothing exists.” Oh, thanks for checking. If Russia says so, we’re all good.
- Saying that he didn’t know Carter Page, someone who had meetings in Moscow all summer. Turns out that he named Carter Page to his potential foreign policy team in March. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, Trump naming someone to his team doesn’t mean he actually has any idea who they are.
- Saying that he’s a germaphobe, so the prostitute story couldn’t be true. Putting aside that I could think of a hundred different ways an innocent person would respond to an accusation of paying prostitutes to turn the Volga River yellow, Trump did manage to again find an opportunity to contradict himself. In a 2015 Hollywood Reporter article he said he wasn’t germophobic.
The Telegraph: What are the five main claims about Donald Trump and his team from the alleged Russian dossier?
Mother Jones: The spy who wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It was “hair-raising” stuff
|I Won! I Became President!
Like all proud toddlers, Trump shouted that he won at the end of his first press conference since July 27 (when he asked the Russians to find Hilary’s emails). Below is some of what transpired during the sprawling mess of a press conference:
- He refused to call on CNN, saying that the organization was terrible and fake news.
- He unveiled his long-awaited plan to resolve his tremendous conflict of interest. It is . . . letting his sons run The Trump Organization and pinky swearing they won’t talk with him about it. Oh, he also promised that he would give any foreign profits from his DC hotel to the U.S. Treasury. That way I guess he can indict all of us for taking bribes? At least it will be the first money he’s put into the U.S. Treasury in decades.
- Trump declared he’s doing this voluntarily because, “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president.”
- The Director of the Office of Government Ethics called Trump’s new plan, “meaningless.”
- Republicans rallied against this clear ethical violation by having the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), threatened to go after . . . wait for it . . . the Director of the Office of Government Ethics. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus chimed in to warn the Ethics Director “to be careful.”
- At the press conference, Trump’s lawyer (whose firm was named the firm of the year in Russia last year – seriously) displayed scores of manila folders that allegedly had all the paperwork to remove Trump from his various businesses. However, much like Trump, these folders were likely filled with nothing. Reporters were not allowed to look in the folders. The folders were not labelled, which means if they are real, they are in the worst filing system ever. There were no post-its or visible notes. It’s more likely that Romney’s binders full of women were in there than meaningful legal documents.
- Trump had his paid staffers attend the conference to cheer.
- Trump bragged about turning down a $2 billion project from Dubai over the weekend. He didn’t do something that is unethical and probably unconstitutional. Congrats. I could have ran someone over with a car this week, but didn’t. Can I have a cookie?
- When asked about the tax returns that he refuses to produce. Trump said, “The only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters. I mean, I won! I became President!”
The Atlantic: Donald Trump meets, and assails, the Press
The Daily Beast: Donald Trump promises disclosure, delivers ‘garbage’
Pardon the interruption from our new Russian overlords
posted on January 12
RT = Russia Today = Putin’s propaganda machine
Kill Thousands of Birds and Kids with One Stone
– Trump has named Robert F. Kennedy Jr to lead a vaccine safety taskforce. Kennedy’s thoughts about vaccines are, “This is a holocaust, what [vaccination] is doing to our country.” This is a big win-win for Donnie as it also means Kennedy is resigning as the attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization he founded, since that job “requires me to criticize the President.”
Don’t Let the Silo Door Hit You on the Way Out
– Last week, Trump told all of our ambassadors to leave by the inauguration. This week, he declined to invite the head and the deputy of the National Nuclear Security Administration to stay on. So as of January 20, we have no diplomats and no one maintaining the safety of our nukes.
Where Else Can You Get Vichy Water in Midtown?
– Far right French political leader and likely Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was spotted in the basement of Trump Tower having coffee this week. No one would comment as to why she was there. I’m sure it means nothing.
Curse of Trump > Curse of the Billy Goat?
– The Cubs decided to accelerate their visit to the White House for the World Series championship. Traditionally held during the summer, the Cubs decided to visit now before Trump takes office.
While You Were Sleeping
– The Republicans began the process of dismantling Obamacare with a vote at 1:30am early last week
. They sure are in a hurry. I guess they learned their lesson from President Obama who is still procrastinating taking away everyone’s guns.
The Worst and the Dimmest
– Monica Crowley, who is slated to be the Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the National Security Council, had her booked pulled recently due to rampant plagiarism. Her PhD dissertation from Columbia is rife with plagiarism as well. No word if she wrote Melania’s convention speech.
|Happy Robert E. Lee Martin Luther King Jr.Robert E. Lee Day!
It’s fun to learn new things. For example, I learned this week that Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi celebrate Robert E. Lee Day on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a real-life Reese’s, “‘You got your Robert E. Lee on my Martin Luther King Day’, ‘No, you got your MLK on my Lee Day'” situation.
Donald Trump hopefully also will learn something new this weekend – who Representative John Lewis (D-GA) is.
Trump attacked John Lewis on Saturday to kick off Martin Luther King weekend. Among other things, he tweeted John Lewis is “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results.” He also tweeted that Congressman Lewis’s district in Atlanta is “in horrible shape and falling apart.”
While Trump was getting Vietnam deferments and working with his Dad to keep African Americans out of Trump-owned apartments, John Lewis organized and spoke at the March on Washington, had his head bashed in on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and was an original Freedom Rider. There are few still among us who have done more and produced more for democracy in this country.
Trump also managed to throw in some racism along with his ignorance by assuming an African-American can only lead an inner-city hellscape. Georgia’s fifth district includes Georgia Tech, Emory, the Center for Disease Control, the headquarters of Coca-Cola, and 90% of residents are at least high school graduates.
Or maybe Trump does know all about John Lewis and just longs for the good ol’ days.
|Featured Article of the Week
Featured Article Runner-Ups:
Special Freedom of the Press Edition
The Guardian: The murder that killed free media in Russia
Medium.com: A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media
Chicago Tribune: Without solidarity, the media under Trump will be lost