Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, DO SOMETHING edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

SOMETHING. Or did he?

He filed his taxes? Monday of this week was the day that Trump's routine extension for filing his 2016 taxes expired. Presumably he met this deadline. As Trump has resolutely refused to release any information whatsoever about his taxes, breaking with a precedent stretching back to Watergate, there is no way to know.

He remembered the name of the soldiers whose families he was consoling? The scandal around Trump's botched condolence calls for the soldiers who were killed in Niger on October 6th is now reorienting around the question of why they were put at risk in the first place (see below). But Trump seemed eager to rehash the question of whether Sgt. La David Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, was a liar for saying that Trump was insensitive and didn't seem to know who he was talking about in the hastily-arranged phone call.

This Wednesday, Trump declared to reporters that he was telling the truth (and Myeshia Johnson was not) because he has "one of the all time great memories." And just in case his all-time great memory failed him, Trump also said that the soldier's full name was spelled out on a chart for him.

Trump has claimed to have a great memory before, although he promptly forgot ever having made that claim when it came up in a deposition related to his fraudulent Trump University business.

He took responsibility for authorizing the Niger mission that came under attack? Sgt. Johnson was killed during the same mission that claimed the lives of SSgt. Bryan Black, SSgt. Dustin Wright, and SSgt. Jeremiah Johnson. They were in Niger as part of a counterterrorism force training and assisting the Nigerien military, and had gone on many such combat patrols in the past. But circumstances had recently changed: a crucial element in the overall anti-ISIS forces in the region, the military of neighboring Chad, had been abruptly withdrawn. Some suspect that this was done in retaliation for Trump's seemingly inexplicable decision to add Chad to his travel bans.

Asked on Wednesday if he had authorized the mission, Trump passed the buck to the people he tends to refer to as "my generals." (This is not the first time that Trump has sought to avoid responsibility for orders that cost American lives.) It is not uncommon for the fine-grained details to be left to the discretion of professional military commanders. It is unusual for a president to abdicate all strategic oversight of a theater in which American military personnel are in harm's way.

He was elected with the help of Cambridge Analytica? This week, CNN reported that Cambridge Analytica--the data-mining political consultancy credited with engineering Trump's narrow electoral victory--had been caught asking Wikileaks for the e-mails he believed had been stolen from Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server. (There is no evidence Clinton's private server was ever hacked, and no e-mails from it have ever been released. Wikileaks did publish e-mails stolen by Russian intelligence agencies from the Democratic National Committee, which prompted Trump to declare "I love Wikileaks!")

In other words, yet another element of the Trump campaign was revealed to be interested in what Russian spies could do for them.

Immediately, Trump surrogates began erasing Cambridge Analytica from its previously vaunted place in the Trump mythology. This is a fairly common practice in the Trump world: as figures close to him are implicated in Russia's interference in American elections, they are retroactively expunged from the story of Trump's rise to power. Paul Manafort, who sat at the very top of the Trump campaign org chart for months and is a known target of the Mueller investigation, was reimagined as having played "a very limited role." En route to pushing Steve Bannon out of the White House, Trump himself deleted months of his closest advisor's influence from history when he asserted that Bannon "was not involved in my campaign until very late." Michael Flynn, who became the first person forced out of the Trump administration when he was caught lying about his contacts with Russian agents, was reinvented as an Obama administration holdover, notwithstanding the fact that President Obama fired Flynn in 2013. 

Both Bannon and Flynn were on the payroll of Cambridge Analytica, although Flynn concealed his involvement until recently.

Why are these things important?

  • Presidents do not get to hide behind the military for the consequences of the tasks they give the military.
  • It's bad if getting the last word in an argument with a grieving military widow is any kind of a priority for a president.
  • A president who ignores attacks on the United States is aiding and abetting attacks on the United States.