Thursday, December 14, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent more time listening to Vladimir Putin himself than to intelligence briefings about the threat Putin poses.

Trump called Putin today. Other than a generic reference to North Korea, the only detail provided in the White House readout of the call was that "President Trump thanked President Putin for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance in his annual press conference."

At a press conference in Moscow today, Putin did indeed praise the performance of the American stock markets under Trump — an oddly specific point of praise, but one that Putin was clever to emphasize. Stock markets don't say much about the strength of the economy or any given president's stewardship of it, but Trump seems enormously proud of the fact that the markets are up during his presidency. Putin also denied that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election, a claim that Trump has taken at face value, and repeated in the American media as though it settled the matter. 

Also today, the Washington Post reported on the enormous sensitivity that Trump has on the subject of Russia. His intelligence briefers have found it almost impossible to address the subject without making Trump unproductively angry. As a result, his daily briefings are "structured to avoid upsetting him," which in turn means that executive agencies are rudderless on the subject.
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.  

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president whose hurt feelings prevent him from addressing major national security issues is unfit for office.
  • Under no circumstances should a president take the word of a hostile foreign power over the intelligence and national security agencies of his own government.
  • A president who treats every flattering thing as a statement of fact is a president who can be easily manipulated.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared that Roy Moore's loss meant that he had been "right" all along.

In the aftermath of Doug Jones upset victory in Alabama last night, Trump--or someone with access to his Twitter account--wrote an uncharacteristically diplomatic tweet congratulating Jones on a "hard fought victory." Seven hours later, at a time of day generally associated with angry tweets from Trump, came a very different message. In it, Trump absolved himself of any responsibility for Moore's defeat:
In fact, Trump was electrified by the Moore candidacy and began working on Moore's behalf even before the primary was over. Trump endorsed Strange, but complained "mightily" before and after the primary that he would rather have backed Moore from the start and blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for manipulating him into throwing his weight behind Strange. Even then, his endorsement of Strange was bizarrely qualified: just days before the primary, at a rally for Strange, Trump said about his choice of candidates, "I might have made a mistake. I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake." He then praised Moore and promised to campaign just as hard for him if he won.

During the general election campaign, Trump recorded robo-calls for Moore, endorsed him after a sex scandal involving his alleged sexual contacts with underage girls broke, held campaign rallies in Alabama media markets, and tweeted his encouragement to "VOTE ROY MOORE!" or similar sentiments five times. He also made sure that Moore once again began to receive money from the Republican National Committee, which had been withdrawn after the child sex allegations came to light.

Why should I care about this?

  • There's nothing inherently wrong with backing a losing candidate, but a president who sets as much store by loyalty as Trump does should probably demonstrate some.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lashed out at a female senator who called for his resignation, saying she'd "do anything" for his money.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who recently made waves within her own party for her repudiation of Bill Clinton's sexual conduct, has also called on congressional Republicans to investigate the many accusations of sexual assault or harassment leveled against Trump. This morning, Trump--who tolerates criticism from women even less well than from men--retaliated with a tweet that suggested Gillibrand was "disloyal" because he'd made contributions to her campaign funds in 2007 and 2010, adding that she "would do anything for them." 

Trump did not explain why he thought his $5,850 in donations to Gillibrand, a liberal Democrat, entitled him to her silence seven years later on the question of his alleged sexual assaults. 

Trump's tweet was almost universally understood as a crude sexual reference, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gamely pushed back, saying that only people whose minds were "in the gutter" could take it that way. 

Gillibrand, who did take it that way, learned about Trump's tweet after she was pulled out of a bipartisan congressional Bible study.

What's the problem here?

  • A president whose instinct is to call a women who upsets him a whore isn't morally fit for the office.
  • A president who can't control that instinct isn't emotionally stable enough for the office.
  • It's bad if a president who is monetizing his presidency every chance he gets thinks that politicians' "loyalty" is for sale.

Monday, December 11, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He denied a "fake news" report that he watches hours of TV every day.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran a lengthy article sourced to sixty "advisers, associates, and members of Congress" detailing Trump's mood swings and media consumption, and the efforts of his staff to keep him on task. It included reports that he watches 4-8 hours of cable news per day, and that he uses it in an attempt to control his own moods--or fire them up. This is in line with exhaustive previous reporting of Trump's long-standing TV obsession.

That detail was relatively innocuous compared to the overall picture it painted of Trump as an overconfident yet needy and emotionally unstable man whose staff had mostly settled on a strategy of manipulating rather than educating him. Nevertheless, Trump focused on the TV-watching claim in his Twitter rebuttal

It would be easier to take Trump at his word over the NYT's sixty sources if Trump didn't so often react in real time on Twitter to things he'd just heard on cable news. One of his favorite targets for that, the morning show Fox and Friends, made a joke of it: they asked Trump to blink the Oval Office lights if he was watching, and then cut to a "live" shot of the White House lights flickering. Trump's habits are so widely known and so predictable that organizations and political groups looking to influence him have bought TV ads specifically targeted at him.

Why does this matter?

  • The presidency is a full-time job.

Sunday week in review

What else did Donald Trump do today?

FBI. Trump's criticism of the FBI forced his directorial appointee, Christopher Wray, into the probably unprecedented position of defending the nation's federal police force against its own president. Wray sent FBI staff an e-mail expressing his support on Monday, and again in his testimony before Congress on Thursday.

Trump said last week that the reputation of the FBI was in "tatters," as part of a public relations campaign to discredit whatever it or its former director, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, may find regarding Russian interference on his behalf in the 2016 election. 

Novel legal theories. Donald Trump Jr. spent much of Wednesday behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russia's attempts to get his father elected. By the rules of the committee, what he talked about isn't clear, but members can discuss with the press what he refused to talk about. Trump Jr. was unwilling to discuss a conversation he had with his father during the apparent attempt to cover up his June 2016 meeting with Russian agents--the ones who had provoked an enthusiastic response from him when they promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Since the nature of that conversation is likely to incriminate at least Trump Jr., his refusal to answer is not surprising. But the nature of his refusal is: he claimed that talking with his father was subject to attorney-client privilege.

Neither man is a lawyer.

What is in a name. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has not been expected to run for re-election in 2018, but Trump made efforts this week to get the 83-year-old into the race. The reason is that if Hatch doesn't run, one likely candidate to replace him is former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The two do not like one another: in March of 2016, when it still seemed possible to avert a Trump nomination, Romney gave a heavily publicized speech in which he called Trump a "phony," a "fraud," and a "con man"--among other things.

It was also revealed this week that when Trump appointed Mitt Romney's niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel, to chair the Republican National Committee, he did so on the condition that she stop using her middle name in public.

Regulations. At his Pensacola rally for Roy Moore, Trump praised himself for his skill at cutting regulations--something he usually presents as a good thing no matter what regulations are being undone--and embellished it with an interesting if absurd claim: that only President Lincoln had come anywhere close.

It's not clear what, if anything, Trump had in mind by this beyond wanting to compare himself favorably to Lincoln--something he does a lot. One of the "job killing regulations" put in place by President Obama that Trump axed this week was one requiring airlines to fully disclose baggage fees to customers before a ticket is purchased.

The White House did not comment on how many jobs would be saved by surprise baggage fees.

Business. Trump's business empire expanded into Indonesia this week. Trump's name will go up over a proposed "six-star" hotel, golf course, and luxury resort, according to a report made this week.

This violates a promise Trump made shortly before taking office that he would not enter into "new deals" with foreign business interests. Trump remains the direct beneficiary of any money his businesses make, which makes lucrative deals like this an easy way to buy influence. But in his defense, it will not be any easier for Indonesia to do so than the Dominican Republic, Dubai and China, or any of the new foreign customers of his existing businesses that he now says it is too much trouble to keep track of.

Why are these bad things?

  • A president who does not have faith in the integrity of his own government should leave it.
  • Things a president does or says in possible furtherance of a crime are not secret just because he (or his son) really needs them to be.
  • Making someone renounce their family name just to keep a job is a pretty shitty thing to do.
  • It's bad if a president doesn't keep his promises.
  • It shouldn't be this easy to make it look like the President of the United States can be bought.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He appeared at a civil rights museum opening, and in a robocall for a man who specifically cited the era of slavery as the United States' greatest time.

Trump spent 40 minutes this morning at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, appearing only in private after outrage by some of the very people the museum honors. Citing Trump's embrace of white nationalist rhetoric, John Lewis and other veterans of the civil rights movement stayed away from the opening after Trump, at the last minute, accepted an invitation from Mississippi's Republican governor Phil Bryant to attend. Trump read carefully from a prepared statement, did not take questions, did not appear in public, and did not see any of the protestors who gathered to meet him.

Trump's actual reason for appearing in Mississippi is its proximity to Alabama. Trump is enthusiastically campaigning for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore and held a rally just across the Florida border last night, but given the very real prospect that Moore may lose--almost unthinkable for a Republican in that state--he seems to be trying to hedge his political bets by not actually crossing the border. 

At some point after he left the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum this morning, Trump recorded a "robocall" on behalf of the Moore campaign, according to a White House spokesperson.

The two things are connected. Moore is chiefly known these days for the nine women who say he "dated" them and made sexual contact with them when he was a middle-aged man and they were as young as 14. But when he was asked by an African-American man in September when he last thought America was "great," Moore responded, “I think it was great at the time when families were united—even though we had slavery—they cared for one another.... Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

Why is this a problem?

  • A president who can't attend a civil rights museum opening without making a mockery of it the same day shouldn't go.
  • A president who can't attend a civil rights museum opening without making a mockery of it shouldn't be president.

Friday, December 8, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged about terrible poll numbers.

In a tweet sent shortly after noon today, Trump added his signature all-caps "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" rallying cry to the topline result of a Politico/Morning Consult poll: 45% approval.

This is accurate, and unlike some of the polls Trump has been known to tout, it actually exists outside of his imagination. This particular number clashes dramatically with other recent polls. During the same period (Dec. 1-3) that this poll was taken, Trump tied his lowest mark in the Gallup daily tracking poll (33% approval/62% disapproval). A Pew poll in the field between November 29 and December 4 found Trump's approval numbers at a record-low 32%, with 63% disapproving. The average of polls splits the difference today at 37/56.

But regardless of which end of the spectrum Trump is choosing from, the fact remains that the Politico/Morning Consult poll is terrible for him. Not only does it confirm the basic truth of Trump's situation--he has been astonishingly unpopular for his entire presidency, especially considering the almost decade-long economic improvement he has inherited--but the poll also paints a very unflattering picture of Trump's performance in many specific areas. Among the other details reported:

  • Twice as many Americans believe that Trump's tax plan will raise their taxes than lower it
  • Trump's endorsed choice for the open Senate seat in Alabama, Roy Moore, should be expelled immediately if elected, according to a 3-to-1 majority
  • Only 13% of Americans believe Trump always tells the truth
  • Just 37% of Americans call Trump "trustworthy," the same score he gets for "stable."
  • By contrast, 54% call him "sexist," 60% call him "reckless," and 51% say he is "thin-skinned"

Why does this matter?

  • It's embarrassing if a president is this desperate for validation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused John Lewis of not wanting to honor civil rights heroes like... John Lewis.

Trump decided over the weekend to attend the opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Mississippi. As a result, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and several other Democratic politicians announced they would not attend. Trump was unable to let the rebuke go unchallenged. Today, the White House released a statement: “We think it’s unfortunate that these members of Congress wouldn’t join the president in honoring the incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history.”

John Lewis was chairman of SNCC, helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer project, was beaten at the Edmund Pettus bridge. In other words, he is one of the civil rights leaders whose sacrifices the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum depicts.

Trump's sudden decision to attend the opening is apparently part of his tactic of appearing near Alabama this week, to show a kind of implicit support for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, while still being able to say that he is not campaigning for the accused child molester.

This is not the first time that Trump, who describes himself as "the least racist person," has proven sensitive to criticism from Lewis. In January, when Lewis cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump's victory, Trump lashed out with tweets in which he incorrectly assumed that Lewis's affluent suburban Atlanta district was "in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested)."

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad for a president to use the memories of civil rights heroes for unrelated political gain.
  • The absurdity of criticizing John Lewis for not honoring John Lewis and others like him is pretty clear.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused the Democrats of wanting to shut down the government on behalf of DACA recipients when he apparently wants to shut down it down on behalf of his poll numbers.

Asked today about the possibility of a government shutdown later this week, Trump responded, "It could happen. Democrats maybe will want to shut down this country because they want people flowing into our country."

It would be virtually impossible for Democrats alone to cause a government shutdown: they are the minority in both houses of Congress, and while in theory Senate Democrats could filibuster a spending bill in the Senate, their leadership has explicitly ruled this out. One reason that a shutdown might happen anyway is because House Republicans are deeply split over spending priorities and some are threatening to withhold their votes for temporary funding bills.

But the more likely reason that a shutdown is possible is that Trump has told his advisors that he believes a shutdown would help him rise in the polls.

Trump does appear to be learning some caution on the subject, though: in May, he openly called for the United States government to shut down, rather than trying to blame it on his political opponents.

So what?

  • It's bad if a president is actively trying to make Americans suffer so that he can gain political leverage.
  • Blaming your opponents for things you want to do is called projection, and it is not a sign of mental stability.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He denied that his administration was considering organizing a private army of spies to fight his political enemies... then began walking back the denial.

This morning, The Intercept reported a seemingly preposterous story: that Trump was entertaining a pitch by Erik Prince to develop a "global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies... as a means of countering 'deep state' enemies." The network would be paid for by private donors. Prince is the CEO of the mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater, and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He is also the person who set up a secret backchannel between Trump and representatives of the Putin regime before Trump took office. And in a bizarre but poetic touch, the plans supposedly involved contributions from Oliver North, who certainly has experience operating outside the laws of the United States on the secret orders of a president.

Individual elements of the story made a kind of sense. Trump literally compared the US intelligence community to Nazis during his presidential transition, and the relationship hasn't gotten much better since. And during his days as a private citizen, Trump's fondness for hiring platoons of private investigators (and dabbling in amateur surveillance himself) was well established. But at bottom, the story as reported would have a public official being given a private army to deploy against his own government, something that would be cartoonish even by the standards of the Trump administration.

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration categorically rejected it: "“The White House does not and would not support such a proposal,” said a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

But today, during a press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders dialed back the rejection to what amounts to a "no comment:"
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any plans for something of that definition or anything similar to that at this time.

Q The President would be opposed to that?

MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had that conversation with him.
And shortly after that, a Trump administration official admitted on background that the plan existed and had been discussed.

Why is this a problem?

  • A president who doesn't have faith in his own government cannot fulfill the duties of his office.
  • It's bad if anyone, much less a president, tries to subvert the government of the United States.
  • Surrounding yourself with a personal guard loyal only to you is what authoritarians do.

Monday, December 4, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He channeled Richard Nixon on presidential criminal law.

In a Saturday tweet, Trump appeared to confess that he had obstructed justice when he admitted that he knew at the time of his firing that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI. That makes his subsequent efforts to shut down the investigation into Flynn--which culminated in the firing of the FBI director, James Comey--obstruction on its face.

Today, Trump's personal defense lawyer John Dowd offered a new sort of defense: not that Trump didn't or wouldn't seek to pervert the course of justice by firing Comey over his pursuit of legitimate crimes, but that as president, nothing Trump does can ever legally count as obstruction of justice. Dowd told that a "president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case."

This is not an entirely new theory: President Nixon made the same argument, although only after he'd left office and accepted a pardon for crimes he'd committed while in office.
FROST: Would you say that there are certain situations... where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal?

NIXON: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.
Trump's legal theory didn't impress most lawyers asked for comment today, but since Trump probably can't be criminally indicted until after he leaves or is removed from office, it may be a moot point. That said, obstruction of justice was a charge against President Clinton during his impeachment trial and an article voted out of committee against President Nixon, who resigned rather than be impeached.

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if a president perverts the course of justice, whether or not he can be prosecuted for it.
  • Declaring yourself above the rule of law is what authoritarians do. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Racial slurs. On Monday, Trump once again referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as "Pocahontas." Trump has made the racial taunt--in reference to Warren's family history suggesting Cherokee and Delaware heritage--many times before, but this time it came as a sort of free-association during a ceremony honoring the Navajo "Code Talkers" of the second World War.

Native American groups were not amused, particularly because this latest use of the Powhatan woman's name as a slur distracted from what was supposed to be a celebration of Native American war heroes. 

Trump had a history of racial attacks on Native Americans long before Sen. Warren got under his skin. In 1993, he suggested that he had more "Indian blood" than the leaders of tribes who operated casinos in competition with him. He also said that the tribal organizations were fronts for organized crime, a claim he later worked into TV attack ads aimed at halting the construction of a new Mohawk casino that would compete with his.

Revisionist history. One of the defining moments of Trump's political career was the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. The release prompted an "apology" notable for its anger and defensiveness, but it did at least acknowledge that the tape was real: "I said it. It was wrong and I apologize." The statement was remarkable at the time because it was arguably the only time Trump had ever been known to publicly admit any sort of wrongdoing, much less give a grudging apology.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump has been telling people that he now believes the footage was somehow falsified. (It was not.)

As is often the case, it is hard to know whether Trump is deliberately lying, or has genuinely convinced himself to remember things differently. The Times piece cites Trump's own advisors, who admit that he "privately harbor[s] a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact," and that his changing view of the tape may be one of them. His advisors are not the only ones wondering lately about the extent to which Trump is fully engaged with reality.

On the other hand, Trump has been accused by at least sixteen individual women of sexual assault or harassment, not counting pageant contestants (some of them underage) who reported that he deliberately barged in on their dressing rooms while they were changing.

Diplomatic crisis. On Wednesday, Trump retweeted Islamophobic videos by an ultra-nationalist fringe group implicated in the murder of a British member of Parliament. When the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her disappointment, he immediately raged back at her on Twitter, telling her in so many words to mind her own business.

In short order, Trump was repeatedly denounced from the floor of Parliament. Language used in the House of Commons is often blunt by American political standards, but for a Member to say that a sitting American president was "either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking—or all three" is unprecedented in the last two centuries. By Friday, there were other consequences. The British government canceled a "working visit" where Trump was to ceremonially open an American embassy in London that had been scheduled for next month.

The "working visit" itself had been a compromise to avoid the massive protests that were expected if he were given the honor of a full state visit. (While a state visit was still on the table, Trump had been eagerly looking forward to it, specifically requesting a ceremonial carriage ride with the Queen.)

Meritocracy. In October, Trump declared a "public health emergency" on opioids--an act which freed up $57,000 to combat an epidemic of addiction which killed about 30,000 Americans in 2015. This is distinct from a declaration of a national emergency, which would have allowed the government to tap into the $13 billion FEMA budget.

On Wednesday, Trump appointed a "czar" to oversee the administration's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic: his former pollster and TV surrogate Kellyanne Conway.

What is so bad about these things?

  • A president who can't control the impulse to make racial slurs at a ceremony honoring war heroes of that race is not mentally fit for office.
  • Telling big lies in the hopes that people will believe you rather than their own ears is what authoritarians do.
  • It's a problem if an American president is so toxic in our closest ally that he's blacklisted from even informal visiting.
  • It's bad to appoint unqualified political operatives to manage a medical crisis.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He confessed to obstruction of justice.

After a full day of refraining from public comment on the news that Michael Flynn had struck a plea bargain with the special counsel, Trump took to Twitter in what seems to have been an effort to insulate himself from the political fallout. Trump said that Flynn's actions were "lawful"--which contradicts Flynn's own statement on the matter--but also that he "had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI."

It is not a crime to lie to Mike Pence, but it is a crime to lie to the FBI. And as legal experts were quick to point out, since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over his unwillingness to "let Flynn go," the fact that he apparently knew Flynn had lied to the agency that Comey led means that this attempt to help Flynn escape prosecution was obstruction of justice.

Belatedly realizing Trump's mistake, the White House responded with two defenses. The first was that Trump was "simply paraphras[ing] what Ty Cobb said yesterday." But Ty Cobb, a lawyer working on Trump's defense, said no such thing, since it would implicate his client in obstruction of justice.

The second, offered by anonymous sources hours after the initial response, was that the tweet had actually been "crafted" by John Dowd, another lawyer working on Trump's personal legal defense team. But the White House itself was careful not to go on record with any statement denying Trump's authorship, since that would raise questions about why one of Trump's lawyers was implicating him in obstruction of justice. 

The only two presidents in recent history to be impeached or seriously threatened with it, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, both faced charges of obstruction of justice.

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad, and impeachable, if the president obstructs justice in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy.
  • People innocent of wrongdoing do not need to change their story.

Friday, December 1, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hid from the press but insisted that Michael Flynn was no threat to him.

Michael Flynn pleaded guilty today to a single count of lying to the FBI. He is now cooperating with the special counsel's investigation into whether Trump or any of his associates conspired with Russia during that country's interference in the election that brought Trump to power.

Trump was scheduled for a routine press appearance around noon today, but it was abruptly canceled. Aides later blamed a scheduling error, but the White House has refused to comment at all on the Flynn plea. Instead, Trump's personal defense attorney, Ty Cobb, released a statement on Trump's behalf:
Today, Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI. The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the special counsel's work demonstrates again that the special counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.
Cobb is correct that the charging document and statement of offense are extremely brief and almost entirely devoid of any information not directly related to the single charge of lying Flynn faces. Prosecutors who are making plea deals with "flipped" witnesses against bigger targets have an incentive to say as little as possible in such filings, because the less their targets know about the state of the investigation the better.

But even that bare minimum of information released in the statement of offense directly implicates several "senior" and "very senior" members of the transition team in criminal acts. One of these figures is apparently Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who ordered Flynn before Trump's inauguration to lobby foreign countries (including Russia) on a United Nations vote about Israeli settlements. It is illegal for private citizens to interfere in U.S. foreign policy.

So what?

  • It's bad when a president hides from the press--even if he has good reason to be afraid of the questions they'd ask.