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Will Republicans Break With Trump Over Russia?

President Donald Trump is “dangerously naive.”

He has a “pathological unwillingness to criticize anything the Kremlin does.” He is discrediting U.S. intelligence agencies and “telling the world they can’t be believed.”

As for Trump’s refusal to disavow Russian President Vladimir Putin and the murders and poisonings of Putin critics in recent years because, as Trump put it, America has “killers” too? “I don’t think we’ve ever had a more harmful statement come out of the Oval Office than that one,” says Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, in an extensive interview for our new podcast, The Global Politico.

Schiff, a Harvard-trained lawyer who made his career by prosecuting an FBI agent caught in a sex-for-secrets trap by the Soviet Union, has been one of the leading Democrats calling for a more serious investigation of Trump’s mysterious ties to Russia. Last week, when national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after misleading the vice president about his December phone call with the Russian ambassador, Schiff quickly demanded an expansion of the House intel panel’s probe of the 2016 election hacking to include the Flynn matter, an expansion Chairman Devin Nunes reluctantly agreed to late last week.

Now, Schiff is openly suggesting a possible cover-up in the Flynn affair. “There’s a profound question about whether he was acting on his own, or whether he was acting at the behest of the now president or others in the administration,” Schiff says. “Who else was knowledgeable that he had misled the vice president, and in doing so misled the country?”

Throughout our conversation, Schiff described Russia under Putin in terms I’ve rarely heard over nearly two decades of covering U.S. relations with the Kremlin, and almost never from a Democrat in recent years, when it was largely Republicans who criticized Putin and what they saw as President Barack Obama’s reluctance to confront Russian aggression. “Russia is a major threat to the country,” Schiff says. “They are doing their best to dismantle democratic institutions in Europe, just as they did in Russia itself. And just as they tried to do in our own country, in the election … There’s a real confrontation with a real malignant power.”

Perhaps most striking about this kind of rhetoric is who it’s coming from, and the partisan divide it heralds for American foreign policy going forward as a new generation of Russia hawks emerges. Because Schiff is new to the outrage factory, a mild-mannered sort on Capitol Hill whose Twitter feed used to be filled with polite hearing notices and the measured policy wonkiness for which he has been known. Just about every article ever written about the California Democrat, a triathlete who keeps an extreme fitness regimen, has called him some version of “a moderate’s moderate.”

But that was before Trump and his unlikely, largely unexplained, admiration for Putin. Schiff in recent months has turned his perch on the House Intelligence Committee into a newly public role as perhaps the loudest voice on Capitol Hill pushing Republicans to investigate not only the Russian hacking of the 2016 election but also just what ties Trump and his campaign advisers may have with the Russian government whose strongman leader Trump has said he admires. Schiff tells me the panel will examine “any contacts between Russia and U.S. persons” to see whether there was “any U.S. person complicity” in the 2016 election-related hacking.

But it’s not entirely clear whether the panel will actually do so—or how effective the committee will be. Schiff and other Democrats have been rebuffed in efforts to commission a special joint investigation commission and uncertain about how much cooperation they will receive from the FBI, which is conducting its own probe of the Flynn matter as well as the broader Russia hacking during the 2016 campaign. And among House Republicans, there remains resistance to looking too closely at the dealings of a president from their own party.

While Senate Republicans, under pressure from noted Russia hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have sounded a tougher note about their investigation, in the House, Nunes—who served on Trump’s transition team—has been much more skeptical. At first, Nunes refused last week to broaden the probe to Flynn, saying instead that he preferred, as the president insisted, to investigate the leaks that led to the disclosures about the Flynn call. On Sunday, Nunes went on the talk shows to cast doubt on Schiff’s insistence that the panel will look at whether and how complicit any Americans tied to Trump may have been in the Russian hacking.

“We are not going to go on a witch hunt against the American people, against American citizens,” he told CBS’ John Dickerson, insisting, “as far as I know our law enforcement authorities don’t have that information.”

Wherever the unfolding investigations around Russia, Trump and Putin lead, the swirling controversy has already had one inescapable effect in American politics: the return of Cold War-style rhetoric and ominous warnings about Russia. Three straight American presidents—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—have started out hoping to forge a closer relationship with Putin and ending up disillusioned and barely on speaking terms.

But now, with Trump calling Putin a better leader than Obama during the campaign and the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that Russia’s election hacking was specifically aimed at boosting Trump’s chances in the presidential race, the prospects of another attempted reset of U.S.-Russia policy have taken on a darker cast. Trump acknowledged as much during his stemwinder of a news conference the other day, invoking the image of Putin observing the uproar and deciding “it’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.”

***

As the top Democrat on the House panel, Schiff is one of the so-called Gang of Eight, the four top leaders in both houses and four top intelligence committee members, who receive special classified briefings from the U.S. intelligence agencies that other members of Congress do not. Working together with Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel who is also part of the Gang, Schiff started sounding the alarm about Russian interference in the election early last fall.

They faced, Schiff now acknowledges, strong pushback from the Obama White House when they tried to get the administration to go public with evidence about the Russian hacking. Schiff reveals in the interview that he and Feinstein lobbied the National Security Council staff to make such a statement but were rebuffed. “There was a real reticence in the administration to talk about this publicly,” he says, especially at a time when Trump was already complaining publicly that he believed Democrats would try to rig the election for Hillary Clinton.

Instead, he and Feinstein teamed up, and on September 22, released their own statement saying there was a “serious and concerted” effort by Russia to meddle in the 2016 race—a statement confirmed by the Obama administration in October and then, after the election, by a public finding from the U.S. intelligence agencies that the hacking was aimed at electing Trump. Many Democrats today remain furious about that timetable, wondering whether Obama’s hesitant response to the hacking and unwillingness to speak out more forcefully before Nov. 8 may have inadvertently helped Trump win the presidency.

Regardless, the conversation with Schiff makes clear that there’s an entirely new politics to Russia in the U.S. today, and nowhere more so than on Capitol Hill, where historically it has been Republicans who, even long after the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, remained much more critical of Putin’s heavy-handed rule and expansionist foreign policy across the former Soviet territory.

For the most part, they still are—and when reports circulated that Trump’s White House was considering lifting some sanctions on Russia as an early executive order, it was strong pushback from Republicans on the Hill, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that helped to table, or at least delay, whatever plans there were; the subsequent furor over Flynn and his Russia entanglements makes that even less likely to proceed for now. Nunes nodded to that new reality—and probably to Schiff’s Russia warnings—in his comments to CBS. “There are Russia hawks now,” he said wryly, “I think there’s more Russia hawks in Congress than there are congressmen and senators.”

For Schiff and others in the newly-hawkish-on-Russia camp, there’s an explicit connection between Putin’s threatening moves and the rise of like-minded populist nationalists such as Trump in the United States and others in Europe. “We are in a new war of ideas, in which autocracy appears to be on the march, and we have to confront it,” he says.

So what about the Republicans who had in recent years been so quick to criticize Obama for being soft on Putin and warning of Russian imperial designs across Eastern Europe? The same party that applauded when 2012 nominee Mitt Romney labeled Russia the No. 1 geopolitical threat to the United States? Had his GOP colleagues, I asked Schiff, suddenly changed their minds about Russia now that Trump is promoting a different line?

His answer was as revealing about the state of play in Congress for President Trump as it was about anything having to do with foreign policy. And it suggests that while, for now, most of the GOP is not openly breaking with its combative new president, that may not always be the case.

“They haven’t changed their mind about Russia. I think they are as deeply distrustful as ever. They don’t want to cross this president yet,” Schiff says of his Republican colleagues. “They have no illusions about Vladimir Putin; none of them think he’s a friend. They all recognize the great evil that he’s doing bombing civilians in Aleppo, invading his neighbors, murdering journalists. So, I don’t think they have any new view—I don’t think they’ve been persuaded by Donald Trump that somehow Russia is now our friend.”

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Rep. Adam Schiff: The Full Transcript

For the third episode of Politico Magazine’s Susan B. Glasser’s new podcast, The Global Politico, she sat down with Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. A transcript of Glasser and Schiff’s conversations, and the podcast, follows:

Well, hello. This Susan Glasser from the Global POLITICO. I’m delighted to welcome you back, and to welcome our guest today, Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which means he is right in the middle of one of the biggest stories in the world today; which is the question of what on earth is going on with Donald Trump’s White House, and Russia, and leaks, and alleged influence and meddling in American elections. Congressman Schiff, he joins us today from Capitol Hill.

Glasser: I’m so grateful to you for coming back on to talk with us this afternoon about, really, a crazy week, even by the standards of this one-month-old administration. So, first of all, what is your feeling about the state of play today, on where we stand with the story of President Trump, General Flynn, and the Russians?

Schiff: Well, it has been a very topsy-turvy week. And it’s still all the more bewildering because we now know that the president was informed that Mike Flynn had misled people. And that, to me, is very troubling because he was aware the vice president had misrepresented the facts to the American people. And that was okay until he was confronted with it by this story in the The Washington Post. And that was what forced the firing of Mike Flynn.

And even now, [President Trump] seems to be trying to apologize to Flynn for firing him. So the whole thing is very bewildering. How much was this designed to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia for their very interference in the presidential campaign—interference which was designed to help Donald Trump?

And more, probably, we need to look at this in the context of Russian influence measures in the United States. And this gets back to the campaign. We know, of course, that Russia hacked Democratic institutions; was dumping documents. We know that they were using their paid media platforms, their RT TV, as well as thousands or hundreds of paid trolls to push fake news to try to influence social media.

But we need to know more about any contacts that the Russians had with anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign, or any U.S. persons that might have been facilitators of Russian illegal activities during the campaign. So all this is really the subject of our investigation. And our investigation, by necessity, just got broader because it now has to include Flynn’s contacts with [Sergei] Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

Glasser: Well, tell me a little bit about the investigation. There seems to be a difference of opinion among Republicans in the Senate versus Republicans in the House. The Republicans in the Senate seem to be taking a somewhat more aggressive stance. You have the Senate majority leader saying absolutely they would need to investigate these new allegations involving General Flynn, and what exactly happened between him and Vice President Pence and President Trump.

But on the House side, where you are, your colleague, Chairman [Devin] Nunes, suggested, basically, this isn’t that much of a big deal. Do you see a partisan fight brewing over this?

Schiff: Well, I had a chance to discuss this at some length with the chairman yesterday. And we have the agreement now to look at the communications between Flynn and the ambassador as a part of our investigation. The chair has assured me that there won’t be any relevant line of inquiry that we will be denied the ability to investigate.

So, I found that encouraging. And this really ought to be, has to be, a bipartisan investigation. Russia is a major threat to the country. They are doing their best to dismantle democratic institutions in Europe, just as they did in Russia itself. And just as they tried to do in our own country, in the election. And we’re facing a major challenge from this country. They’re now violating one of the missile treaties. They’re stationing ships off our coast to spy on our naval programs, and harassing some of our ships.

So there’s a real confrontation with a real malignant power. And I think it requires us to, in a very bipartisan way, make sure that the nation is prepared; that we’re taking appropriate steps to inoculate ourselves against further meddling in our democratic affairs, as well as protecting our allies.

Glasser: Take us behind the scenes a little bit. Obviously, these are highly sensitive and confidential matters that you’re investigating. But give us a little bit of a sense of how an investigation like this proceeds. You’ve announced it—this is not a brand-new investigation. Now, its scope is being broadened somewhat to include the new allegations. But how active a probe is it? How much are the intelligence agencies cooperating with you? How much do you feel that we had the information before the election that we might have wanted to come out sooner?

Schiff: Well, the way I think we ought to do this investigation—the way, harkening back to my days as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles—is you generally begin by gathering all of the documents. In this case, these are documents that underlie the intelligence community’s conclusion that we read publicly, in that public report about Russian involvement in the election. We want to make sure that the intelligence community got it right. We want to look at the raw intelligence, and make sure their conclusions were substantiated. But that’s only one piece of it.

We also want to look at any contacts between Russia and U.S. persons. Any U.S. person’s complicity in what took place. We know in Europe, for example, that the Russians are involved with blackmailing people; that they’re involved in extorting people, and gathering compromising material on people; in funding right-wing parties. They, you know, very much make use of indigenous citizens of those European countries to help move things in the Russian direction. And we need to find out, did they also do that here?

So it begins by gathering the appropriate information, identifying the witnesses you need to talk to, talking to those witnesses, following their leads. And you know, I think a big question for us, as we do this investigation, is will we have the cooperation of the FBI where we need it? Because we can’t replicate what they do. We can’t become our own FBI. And that means they’re going to have to share with us. Have they been investigating this? If they have, what have they investigated? What is yet to be investigated? So that we can make sure that this is thorough.

We don’t have the resources, as Senate or House committees, to be dispatching people undercover to Europe or elsewhere, to find out some of this information. So we really need to know what have they pursued already, and what remains to be done.

Glasser: You know, you’ve become increasingly vocal, in a public way as well, questioning President Trump, questioning Russia, and why it has been seeking to influence our elections. The other day, you had a tweet that caught my eye where you talked about Trump and his policy of quote-unquote “appeasement toward Russia,” and asked the provocative question of, “Why? We’re going to get to the bottom of this.” Do you think the investigation will be able to get to the bottom of what it is that really is going on between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump?

Schiff: Well, I certainly hope so. That’s going to be my aim, that we do this thoroughly, and objectively, and that we leave no stone unturned. Again, a big question is, will we get the assistance of the FBI in doing this investigation? And that will determine a lot of what we’re capable of doing.

But, you know, if you look just at the most recent allegations involving Flynn, there’s a profound question about whether he was acting on his own, or whether he was acting at the behest of the now president, or others in the administration. Who else was knowledgeable that he had misled the vice president, and in doing so misled the country?

So we certainly need to get to the bottom of that. But more broadly, we need to understand exactly how the Russians have interfered in our democracy. This is really, I think, one of the most striking developments over the last half-century; that this adversarial power succeeded in interfering, taking down our democracy, by several notches. And this is really part of their goal.

They get a lot of criticism for being an authoritarian system, and they would like nothing better than to show that the democracies, the Western democracies, are corrupt; that they’re no better than Russia. And essentially weaken the whole idea of liberal democracy.

Glasser: Based on what you know now, do you think that this interference in our elections actually made a difference, and actually did result in the election of Donald Trump?

Schiff: You know, it certainly had an influence on the election. Whether that influence was determinative, there really won’t ever be a way of knowing. Obviously, in a close election, anything could have made the difference between winning and losing. I would suspect, but this is only my own gut sense, that [FBI] Director Comey’s disclosures at the end of the campaign had as much of an influence as many of the Russian document dumps.

But you could make the argument as well that the choice of the campaigns—where they spent their money, where they focused their efforts—also were determinative. And I think all those things may be true. But of far greater significance to me than whether this was the decisive influence was the mere fact that it was an influence. And that the Russians have essentially taken off the brakes with their interference in our country.

They are far more willing to take risks now to confront us, to interfere with us. That poses some real dangers, but the biggest danger of all is if we don’t take this seriously. And right now, I think the president is dangerously naïve about Putin’s intentions and just wanting a different relationship; hoping for a different relationship has never worked with Russia, and it’s not going to work here.

Right now, I think the president is dangerously naïve about Putin’s intentions.”

Glasser: You know, one of the more jaw-dropping aspects of, obviously, a jaw-dropping story, is also President Trump’s decision to basically turn it around on the intelligence community, and go to war with them. And to say, in effect, “Pay attention to the leaks that resulted in this information about General Flynn becoming public,” rather than the underlying question. And he has consistently been very critical of the American intelligence community, notwithstanding the fact that he’s their new commander-in-chief.

You deal with these professionals all the time. You’ve been in this role during President Obama’s tenure, as well as now into the one-month-old Trump era. What are the consequences that you see playing out of Trump going to war with the intelligence community? Are they, in fact, at war with him, do you think? And how much should we be worried about leaking from them?

Schiff: You know, they’re certainly not at war with him. And there’s nothing the intelligence community would like more than to have a good working relationship with the commander-in-chief. We are the customers of the intelligence agencies. They provide their best assessments. They risk their lives. They risk other people’s lives to get us the very best information.

But of all the consumers, of all the members of Congress, the administration, the intelligence community views the president as their top customer. They pride themselves on how many of their reports make it into the president’s daily brief. That’s sort of the gold standard within the intelligence community. Did their work product become so important that it made it onto the president’s desk?

Well, of course, we know now that not much makes it onto the president’s desk, no matter how good it is. It’s watered down, sifted, simplified, filtered through—I guess it was Mike Flynn for a while, now maybe it’s Steve Bannon. We don’t know. That’s troubling enough, I think, within the intelligence community.

But now you have a commander-in-chief who shows open distain for what they do, and what they risk their lives for. And I just think that’s enormously destructive. The president ought to be relying on their work. And not taking it uncritically, but recognizing its incredible value. They’re the best at what they do in the world, and he’s going to need that information to make good judgements.

The other thing is, when he does have to make a judgment, when he done have to make a decision about what the Iranians are doing, or the North Koreans, or the Houthis, he’s going to be doing that on the basis of intelligence. And he’s going to want not only our country, but other countries, our allies, to have confidence in what he says. And if he’s discrediting our intelligence agencies, he’s pretty much telling the world they can’t be believed.

And if he’s making false statements continually like, “Millions of undocumented immigrants are voting,” then he’s not going to be believed. And we need a commander-in-chief that is credible. And so, there are a lot of risks here. You know, you can add to them, at the moment, a very dysfunctional administration, and a dysfunctional National Security Council.

Glasser: Is this is the kind of worry that you’re already hearing articulated by some of the folks that you deal with in the intelligence community? How worried are they about the morale of their agency? What are they telling you?

Schiff: There are a lot of concerns about where this new president is coming from, and what kind of relationship he’ll have with the intelligence community; whether he will value what they do, and what this will mean for the country. You can imagine, if part of your job is recruiting people who put their lives on the line for America because they believe in the idea of America; they live repressive regimes, but they believe in America. And then they see things coming out of this White House that really call those beliefs into question.

You know, the Muslim ban, for example, was very destructive to our standing in the world, and our relationships with a lot of allies, and our ability to recruit people. So there’s a lot of consternation with the intelligence community. I mean, how often does your primary customer compare you the Nazis? So I am very concerned about it. I hope there’s a change. I hope maybe General Mattis gets the situation under control, or the new national security advisor. But I suspect the problem will be, at the end of the day, the man at the top. And unless he grows in this job, it’s going to be a very rocky four years.

There’s a lot of consternation with the intelligence community. I mean, how often does your primary customer compare you the Nazis?”

Glasser: You know, congressman, it’s hard to believe we’re talking about four years. It’s only been four weeks, and it’s pretty exhausting, isn’t it?

Schiff: It is.

Glasser: Well, listen, this is probably as good a place as any to pick back up with the conversation, which we started in your office on Capitol Hill the other day. You know, I think you had really a global context for Putin, and Russia, and why it is you’re so concerned about these events. It’s probably an important point for our listeners to hear right now.

Schiff: It’s not solely an issue of Russia’s hacking into our election; as serious and as staggering as that was, it’s not simply the relationship between Trump and Putin, but rather, I think we are in a new war of ideas, in which autocracy appears to be on the march, and we have to confront it. We need really strong leadership in the free world.

You see in many parts of Europe a retreat to nationalism, a de-emphasis on human rights. You see in the countries of our NATO allies the imprisoning of journalists. We’re seeing an awful turn away from representative government, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. And so, I view this in that context. And there’s a lot to be concerned about. This president has a pathological unwillingness to criticize anything the Kremlin does. Now, it may be as simple as the fact that Putin says nice things about him, that the Russians effectively helped him get elected president, and he has a world view where you’re either for him or against him, and the Kremlin was for him.

This president has a pathological unwillingness to criticize anything the Kremlin does.”

It may be as simple as that, or there may be more to it involved than that, and one of the things that we intend in the investigation we’re doing in the Intelligence Committee is to find out what were the—all the tools and all the vectors that the Russians used to influence our election. Clearly, they were hacking information; clearly, they were dumping information; clearly, they had their paid media platforms there—Russian TV, their Sputnik. They had paid media trolls, but was there more? Was there direct interaction with the Trump campaign or people associated with the Trump campaign?

All of these things, I think, are part of a thorough and objective investigation, which is what we’re setting out to do. I hope we will do it, and I think it couldn’t be of greater significance. We’re going to see the Russians do this again. We’re going to see them try in Germany, in France, in other European countries. They may try again here in the United States, so we need to fully understand just how—what devices, what levers they’re pulling, so we can help our allies defend themselves, and so we can defend ourselves in the future.

Glasser: You know, I think that’s the thing that has a lot of close observers of the Russian relationship—you know, perhaps even more concerned than the general public—is that people like you who’ve been read into the intelligence, have this heightened level of concern and conviction that, in fact, the Russians have really mounted what you called a crime just now, but clearly is a new level of cyber-attack into our politics and those of our allies, than anyone had really contemplated before. Why do you think it is that the rest of the political class in Washington hasn’t really caught up with this level of alarm? Is it really because you’ve seen things that are just so much more harrowing than what are out there publicly already, or is it simply a failure of, you know, thinking?

Schiff: I don’t think it’s a function of any particular information or insights that the Gang of Eight have that others don’t have. We may have [a] better understanding of the basis of some of the sources and methods of gathering the intelligence, but the basic fact that the Russians hacked our election, that they dumped documents, that they did this with the motivation of hurting Clinton and helping Trump, that’s all now very public.

And that ought to be enough to mobilize people. I think part of the reason why it hasn’t been sufficiently alarming gets back to something President Obama said in the press conference he held just a couple weeks before the turnover of authority, where he talked about the Russian hacking. And he said that we have become so—such—so vigorously partisan that it is having the effect that even the party of Ronald Reagan would somehow excuse, overlook, indulge the fact that the Russians are hacking into our election.

That because it helped the GOP in this election, that therefore it’s okay. And that’s quite staggering. It says a lot about just how polluted our political system has become, that concerns of partisanship would be elevated to the degree where we would be accepting of foreign intervention. Now, one of the things that I think Democrats need to take responsibility for is we knew the Russians were doing this before the election. Senator Feinstein and I, you might recall, we got out ahead even of our own administration and intelligence community made public attribution, but the intelligence community soon thereafter, in October of last year, said very publicly, “The Russians are doing this.”

We Democrats were not successful in persuading the American people why they should care. And that’s something that we have to confront. I think it’s something that is still a problem.

Glasser: Well, you know, it’s interesting. So, you pointed out—I’ll toot your horn because, you know, you were pretty modest there. September 22nd, you and Senator Feinstein, very early in the campaign when you think of all that happened later, put out your joint statement saying that there was a serious and concerted effort, quote-unquote, by the Russians to influence it. You had no sort of question marks attached to that statement. Tell us a little bit the back story. Why did you put it out at that point so early? What was the response you got when you tried to get the Obama White House to do something more before the election?

Schiff: Well, Senator Feinstein and I were very concerned that here you had a foreign adversarial power hacking our election, trying to influence our election, and the American people really fully weren’t brought into the confidence of the administration. They weren’t told what was happening, and we thought this was information that the American people really needed to have; that they could do with that information as they will, but they need to be trusted with the facts.

I think there was a real reticence in the administration to talk about this publicly for a couple reasons. Part of it was they didn’t want to be seen as putting their hand on the scale, as interfering or doing this because they wanted to impact the results of the election, so I think there was a hypersensitivity doing anything that might be perceived as political.

And the other thing is, I think they were concerned about playing into the narrative that the election was rigged, calling into question the results of the election. They thought somehow that this would magnify that problem, and then finally, they, I think, were concerned about Russia escalating. Now, from my own point of view, and I think Senator Feinstein shared that point of view, to the degree that people, including Donald Trump, were claiming the election was going to be rigged, this, I think, was important information for the American people to have.

I think it would have been far more perilous to only tell the American people after the election, “Hey, the Russians were involved. The Russians did this; we knew it, we didn’t tell you.” I think that would have been a far bigger problem. So, I never subscribed to that, and I thought that the danger of escalation was frankly greater if we did nothing, said nothing than if we called out Russia on what it was doing.

Glasser: But it’s fair to say that you and Senator Feinstein don’t just put out a statement like that, that you probably did try to directly convince the Obama White House to go along with something first, before you came to that?

Schiff: Absolutely. You know, we tried to get them to make attribution; ultimately, they did. We never felt it was a question over what level of evidence there was. The evidence was quite compelling and we knew that early on, so yes, we did. And in fact, we worked with the administration and the intelligence communities—community to make sure that we vetted what we were saying, that we weren’t going to say anything that would be revealing of sources and methods.

So, we wanted to do it carefully and thoughtfully, but nonetheless, it was a result of our inability at that point to persuade the administration to do it on their own.

Glasser: And the resistance was in the White House, the State Department?

Schiff: You know, I think it was at least in terms of the conversations we were having, predominantly in the White House, among the National Security Council.

Glasser: So, Obama in general—and we’ll go back to this question of the investigation right now. A lot of people are asking me, as I’m sure they’re asking you, how did we get here, right? How much do we—obviously, we still don’t really understand the nature of Trump’s feelings about Vladimir Putin, but we do understand that the American-Russian relationship has gone off track in some significant way that led to their decision to intervene in our election, well before they or anyone knew that Donald Trump would be president of the United States.

Let’s go back in time a little bit. You have been somewhat critical of the Obama administration, in feeling like perhaps it didn’t course correct quickly enough when it came to the challenges posed by Vladimir Putin. It’s my own theory that if Trump was not now the President of the United States in a way that has sort of overwhelmed all foreign policy discussions, we might be having a more critical conversation about the Obama foreign policy record, and things like Syria, for example, and Russia. What’s your view about why we ended up in this place with Putin? Was it just inevitable, or you know, were there things that we could have done differently?

Schiff: I think to some degree, it was inevitable. I think a lot of it has to do with who Putin is, and how he views the world. I think what probably catalyzed things more than anything else were the demonstrations in Russia in 2011. The Russians believe, and I think as a former KGB guy, this is very much Putin’s point of view, that the intelligence community generally and the CIA particularly, are responsible for all the color revolutions that happen all around the world.

They’re responsible for the Arab spring that—you can see the hidden hand of the CIA in everything. And this may be Putin sort of projecting what he wishes the capability of the KGB was; I don’t know. But nonetheless, I think they saw the United States’ hidden hand behind these mass demonstrations. They certainly saw Secretary Clinton, who was overtly critical of the conduct of the Russian elections.

And I think from Putin’s point of view, it’s all about preservation of the regime, and restoration of Russian greatness. And these demonstrations threatened both. There’s nothing he cares more than the perpetuation of his own rule. The only thing I think he fears that could take him down would be a collapse of the economy and popular uprising, popular demonstrations, and those demonstrations growing out of control.

So, I think he decided that he was going to take the gloves off. And I think he also decided that the best way to distract from Russian’s chronic economic problems, its demographic problems, its downward trajectory, was by foreign adventurism, kind of a well-played gambit in world history, but certainly Russian history. So, the invasion of Crimea, the deployment of troops into Syria; these are all efforts to restore Russian influence, Russian greatness.

The effort to take down our elections, to reveal infighting between the Bernie Sanders and the Hillary Clinton camps, to trumpet any problems in the United States; all of this is an effort to essentially put the Russian flawed thugocracy on a par with American democracy, which is part of the reason why it’s so grievous to me, when I see Donald Trump say things like he did the other day, when he was confronted by Bill O’Reilly, who said, “Well, Putin’s a killer.” And Trump basically said, “Yeah, but we’re not really any different, the United States.”

It’s just the most incredible gift to Russian propaganda, and it just kills me that this is coming from the president of the United States.”

That is so singularly untrue and damaging to our credibility. It’s just the most incredible gift to Russian propaganda, and it just kills me that this is coming from the president of the United States. I don’t think we’ve ever had a more harmful statement come out of the Oval Office than that one, at a time when we really are in this battle of ideas with autocracy, Russia, and this trend towards nationalist concentration of power.

Glasser: You know, congressman, it’s amazing even to hear you say these things. You’re such a, you know, by temperament, a mild-mannered person. You’ve been described as a moderate’s moderate. You’ve been described as a policy wonk, and yet it feels to me that this is tapped into something, deep in your sense of outrage in a way that, you know, just looking at your Twitter feed over the last few weeks, I can almost see the progression of astonishment and anger and dismay. These are not the kind of statements, my guess is, you ever used in a long career in public life.

Schiff: That’s absolutely true. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on my Twitter feed these days, because it is very much against type, in terms of where I come from. I certainly didn’t feel this way about George W. Bush. I haven’t felt this way about other Republican presidents. To me, this one is dangerous in a way that I didn’t feel any of the others were. All the others, I have serious policy disagreements with, but we’re not out of the mainstream.

This president is well out of the mainstream, and I think the things he says, the things he does, pose a grave danger internally. I think they just aggravate divisions in the country, and I also think that it is causing a collapse in our standing around the world. So, I’ve never been more concerned about the future of the country than I am right now, and I think that you hear that reflected in my observations on things, which are, as you say, not generally prone to hyperbole.

Glasser: Well, again, that’s what—I think that’s actually why we’re having this interview today, is that, you know, I have followed you for a long time, and just really over the last couple months, I noticed, wow, you know, Congressman Schiff—he’s a ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. Here he is becoming much more public, so, one is there sort of a Trump effect, right, which is that he’s engaged us all in this discourse on Twitter, and he’s drawn us all into that conversation. But then, two, I think in an interesting way, right, people are now speaking out in—and whether it’s protesting in the streets, or taking to Twitter in ways that are not standard for the ranking member of our Intelligence Committee to do—let me read a couple examples of these.

I think one of your aides told me that you’ve gotten perhaps the most response to President Trump’s tweet—or the other day, when he talked about the so-called judge who ruled against him on the temporary refugee ban. And you wrote, in response to that, “This so-called judge was nominated by a so-called president, and was confirmed by the so-called Senate. Read the so-called Constitution.” And you tweeted that at Donald Trump. What were you thinking when you wrote that? Is it just I’ve got to speak out?

Schiff: It is. You know, this is not the role I wanted to play, not the role I expected that I would be playing. I, like I think everyone else thought that Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. I know my GOP colleagues were just as astonished that Donald Trump ended up winning the election. But I find myself, I think, in a very important role all of a sudden, which is, you know, helping to lead the opposition to a president who I think is—poses a real danger to the country and to our future prosperity, and to our place in the world, to how people view Americans, to whether people still look to America as the leading light and inspiration to the rest of the world, a place they hope one day to immigrate to.

So, I really feel cast in the role of having to speak out, be part of the loyal opposition, and in terms of Twitter, this is a medium that he uses to communicate, and I do believe when you’re in the opposition, you have to communicate in each and every media that your opponent is communicating, and in this case, he makes ample use of Twitter, and we have found that it’s valuable to respond. And I do think sometimes using humor, sometimes dark humor is a way to get people’s attention, and there’s certainly plenty of cause for dark humor these days.

Glasser: Well, speaking of dark humor, I was struck by one where you, the other day, tweeted, “@POTUS took a strong stand against Dr. Evil, effectively barring him from the country. Unclear whether the ban would include his clone, Mini-me.” Do people get your use of irony and sarcasm here, or do you get a lot of Twitter trolls just going after you?

Schiff: Well, you know, these days, you’re going to get Twitter trolls no matter what you do or say, but there are, I guess, a fair number of people now who are following me, who must get my somewhat deranged sense of humor. But sometimes I read these tweets from our president, and I—or I listen to his statements, and they’re so simplistic, and some of them are just so downright ridiculous that it’s hard to respond without just pointing out how absurd they are.

And this particular tweet I was responding to, where he was trying to keep evil out of the country, you know, it—my reaction was, well, is he suggesting that there are others who are pro-evil, that are supportive of an evil immigration policy? That’s absurd, and so, kind of the absurdity of that, I think sometimes the best way to deal with it is through humor and pointing out the absurdity in what someone is saying.

Glasser: Well, I have to say, listening to you, it does remind me actually of our time in Russia, right, where humor was a long-held response, first to the 70 years of the Communist regime, and even when I lived there, during the first term of Vladimir Putin as president, where humor quickly replaced the media as Putin acted to take over the independent media. It was their version of kind of Saturday Night Live, but even edgier. Victor Shenderovich, who I thought was always probably the most astute commentator on politics, and you know, unfortunately, humor is what you use in authoritarian regimes.

Schiff: Well, I don’t think it’s a surprise that Saturday Night Live has become so popular, because it’s a tremendous outlet for people. People are feeling a kind of a tension and anxiety that I’ve never seen after an election before. I was getting hundreds and hundreds of calls and email and letters from people who said that after this election, they were having trouble sleeping, they were having trouble eating; it was affecting them viscerally in a way no other election had. I had never heard that kind of thing before, and I think that people are finding things like Saturday Night Live and Melissa McCarthy’s recent Sean Spicer imitation as cathartic, as a welcome source of relief.

And I think it really is—it does help sometimes cut through the tension, but nonetheless, these are really unprecedented times. Every day, there’s something so astonishing that in a normal administration, you would have a month to think about, talk about, debate over, and hear—maybe have an hour or two before the next incredible falsehood, indiscretion, nonsensical statement, misnomer, invented event—Bowling Green massacre—you name it. It’s one thing after another.

Glasser: Well, that’s right, and so, let’s talk about—that’s the sort of public spectacle that we’re all witnessing, or deciding on Twitter to take part in, in some way. Let’s talk about the substantive job of intelligence committee ranking member, and how that’s changed as a result of this extraordinary moment. First of all, are you hearing lots of concerns from inside the intelligence community about President Trump’s attack on them.

Schiff: You know, I was certainly hearing a lot of concern about the president’s ongoing war on the intelligence community; his comparing the IC to Nazi Germany, and you know, his use of intelligence in quotes, and just the way he was denigrating the IC. And, I mean, this is very dangerous. He’s going to have to rely on the intelligence community professionals if he wants to be successful as president, and the degree to which he was undermining them was also undermining the likelihood of the success of his own administration.

The Muslin ban, for example, which is apparently not a ban and not about Muslims—notwithstanding that’s what they call it, and have called it, at least until they decided not to call it that anymore. This is already affecting our intelligence partnerships in other parts of the world. I was in Iraq three weeks ago, and obviously, we’re working hand in hand with the Iraqis to try to retake Mosul, to try to extinguish ISIS as much as we can, at least deprive them of any major land holdings in Iraq. We’re competing for influence in Iraq with Iran. This was the most tremendous gift we could have given to Iran.

There are different camps in Iraq, some that work more closely with Americans, some that work most closely with the Iranians, some that want to open up a relationship with the Russians, and basically, we just pulled the rug out from under those that are in the so-called American camp. And things like that, this is more than him just badmouthing the IC; this is making their job more difficult, it’s making the job of our service members more difficult, more dangerous; it’s making the success of our mission more unlikely, and that is just real damage, any way you slice it.

Glasser: So, you see a practical affect from the refugee ban in terms of actual intelligence that we’re not able to collect, as a result of that?

Schiff: Absolutely. This is going to put those relationships in jeopardy. People are going to have a more difficult time cooperating with us because they can’t be seen to be working with a country that would ban people of their faith. It’s also going to mean that our service members aren’t going to be able to promise those that are working with them that they might have a chance to immigrate to the United States with their family, if the going gets tough, and they’re identified, and people come after them to kill them. We can’t say that we have their back.

And what does it mean that we have to say to those people, “Well, we can’t get you to the United States, but we’ll get you to another country that doesn’t ban Muslims.” What kind of position is that to take? So, a lot of the words are doing damage, a lot of the policies are doing damage. We’re picking fights with people who are our best friends, like the Australians. None of this is really advancing our core national security interests.

Glasser: You talk to a lot of Republican colleagues up here on Capitol Hill. It’s true that it’s a more partisan time, but certainly you guys are still on speaking terms in many ways, and you’re conducting this investigation together. What do you think they make of all of this? Republicans have been the party that has been the most suspicious of Russia, and it was Mitt Romney, after all, in 2012, who deemed them the greatest geopolitical threat. Have your Republican colleagues just changed their mind about Russia? Or are they distraught at this turn of events?

Schiff: They haven’t changed their mind about Russia. I think they are as deeply distrustful as ever. They don’t want to cross this president yet. I think they all realize the time is coming, but at this point, other than a few very notable people, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, most of the Republicans want to keep quiet and out of sight. They don’t want to contradict the president, they don’t want to pick a fight with the president. They are all hoping they can get something from this president, and they’re also mindful of the fact that he does have a base of followers in their districts that they would rather not come after them.

So, I think they’re trying to be on their best behavior right now, but they have no illusions about Vladimir Putin; none of them think he’s a friend. They all recognize the great evil that he’s doing bombing civilians in Aleppo, invading his neighbors, murdering journalists. So, I don’t think they have any new view—I don’t think they’ve been persuaded by Donald Trump that somehow Russia is now our friend.

So, they’re doing their best to stay out of sight when Russia comes up, and you probably don’t find a lot of eagerness when you go to ask them about, do you—what do you think about the president’s policy on this? But I think that’s going to be of limited duration. You know, they hope right now to get tax reform. They hope to get other things. They hope to—you know, if they have a—they’re from a district where they want to do surface mining, they hope to repeal the regulations on surface mining. If they’re from a district that—where they want to do grazing on federal lands, they hope to get the grazing in. They all want to get their thing before they’re forced to confront this president. But they know that time is coming.

Glasser: So, at The Global POLITICO, one of my goals in starting this podcast was to really make sure that we showed people that there are people in these jobs, and that was, I think, one insight that a friend of mine who worked at the White House a long time—really smart guy, brilliant person on Russia—said to me, “If there was one thing he learned as a—actually being in the room and in the meetings—was that people matter.” In Russian actually, there’s a saying of Stalin’s, still cited widely today, “The cadres decide everything.” You know, in other words, who really matters.

So, where do you come by your views, and your orientation toward Russia in all of this? I read with great fascination that one of your signature cases as a lawyer out of Harvard Law School, when you were working in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, was with the prosecution of Richard Miller, an FBI agent caught in a sex for secrets affair with a Soviet honey trap, so-called, described as Svetlana. What was that experience like, and has that effected your views of Russia and the former Soviet Union?

Schiff: Well, that was a fascinating case where Svetlana Ogorodnivok used the classic sort of sex for secrets, and seduced a FBI agent named Richard Miller, and it was a challenging case to prosecute because Miller was kind of a wily fellow and when he was under surveillance by the FBI, he was able to make the surveillance, recognize it, and went into his superior’s office and laid out a defense that was, in fact, acting as a double agent; that the Russians, the Soviets had thought they were recruiting him, but he was, in fact, only using it to spy on them.

He was ultimately convicted. I don’t know that that was my sort of formative experience with the Soviets. I was—I’m old enough to remember the Cold War, but I—honestly, I know I say this to a lot of your listeners, but I get a lot of my information from open source, from podcasts like yours, from the newspaper. I continue to think—and maybe I’m a dinosaur—that the newspaper is still one of the best sources of information anywhere.

Glasser: My household thanks you. I hope you’re a paying subscriber to the failing New York Times.

Schiff: Well, you know, this touches on another thing that concerns me greatly, and I guess it gets back to that original question you asked me. In terms of this war of ideas that we’re in, we have a lot at stake in a rules-based international order, and so when the president talks willy-nilly about other countries leaving the E.U., or how we’re being taken advantage of by anyone, and NATO is not pulling their fair weight, and everybody is against the United States, he doesn’t seem to realize how much we have to benefit from those international institutions.

But also how much we benefit from an order that’s based on fact and truth. And so, when he belittles any poll as being fake if it doesn’t reflect well on him, or a newspaper being full of lies if it is critical of him, he is tearing down an order that is based on truth. And in its place, erecting something that is based solely on self-interest and propaganda, that really does resemble the Russian system. And you know, I am proud that the press is pushing back hard against this. I think all of us in government need to call this president out when he’s not being truthful, because we can’t get to the point of this fact-free world, because if there’s anything less in the U.S. national interest, it’s a fact-free world.

Glasser: Congressman, that seems like an important point to end on. I want to thank you very much for this conversation, for joining us. I think we’ll want to come back to you when you’ve done the investigation with your colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee into the Russian involvement in the election, and talk a little bit more about what you’ve found. But I thank you very much for your time today, and we’ll keep following you on Twitter, and I hope that you’ll keep following us at The Global POLITICO, and subscribe to our new podcast, and rate us, and give us feedback, send us ideas, as many of you already are. You can email me anytime at sglasser@politico.com, and thank you again for listening.

Schiff: Thank you. Great to join you.

Glasser: Thank you.

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Rating Trump’s Yuge Month One

If you think of Donald Trump’s presidency as a 48-minute NBA game, we’re only at the one-minute mark. So how come after just one tumultuous month of scandals, protests, unprecedented controversies and unfathomable tweets, it already feels like we’re heading into overtime?

It’s hard to believe it’s been just 31 days since Trump delivered his dystopian inaugural address promising to stop all the “American carnage.” He’s launched a full-court press on Washington ever since, shredding its norms, trashing his enemies, dominating the national narrative with a whirlwind of activity and incendiary rhetoric. He’s clashed with Mexico’s president, Australia’s prime minister, “so-called” judges, his Celebrity Apprentice successor, Democratic leaders, Nordstrom, and especially us jackals of the news media, “the enemy of the American people.” He’s fired acting attorney general Sally Yates, who refused to defend Trump’s executive order on refugees, and national security adviser Michael Flynn, who lied about his dealings with Russia. Trump himself has also told whoppers about the size of his inaugural crowd, which was nowhere near the largest ever; the U.S. murder rate, which is nowhere near a 45-year high; his Electoral College victory, which was nowhere near the largest since Ronald Reagan’s; the 3 million illegal voters who supposedly tried to prevent that victory, but do not exist; and the mass protests at the airports after his refugee order, which, come on, Mr. President, were definitely not caused by a Delta computer glitch.

Americans voted narrowly for change, and change has arrived bigly. The Republicans who now control Washington are on a mission to undo just about everything President Barack Obama did. And their leader is the polar opposite of No-Drama Obama, a volatile TV star who seems to combine the media flair of Meet the Kardashians with the management chops of The Office with the emotional maturity of BoJack Horseman. But this isn’t reality TV. This is reality. While the internet was freaking out over the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre and a White House statement about the Holocaust that neglected to mention Jews, the president has been making a flurry of announcements about immigration, health care, abortion, foreign policy, energy, trade and a new Supreme Court nominee. Still, in the words of NBA legend Bill Walton, never mistake activity for achievement. Most of Trump’s high-profile executive orders have resembled press releases written in legalese, signaling his desire to do big things without actually doing them. The most obvious exception is his far-reaching executive order on refugees, but the federal courts have put that one on hold. And so far, Trump has only signed two substantive pieces of legislation, both nullifying obscure Obama-era regulations that fossil-fuel industries found inconvenient. That counts as change, but by this point in his first term Obama had already passed one of the most expensive, expansive, and consequential pieces of economic and social legislation in decades, an $800 billion stimulus bill that would help end the Great Recession, launch a clean energy revolution, cut taxes for most workers, and much more.

Of course, Trump still has 47 more months to put his stamp on America and the world. He still could turn out to be a flamboyant-but-effective Hall of Famer like Dennis Rodman rather than a weird trash-talker with a limited game like Lance Stephenson. It’s just that there so many remarkable stories jumbling together and crowding each other out—was it really just two weeks ago that a Melania Trump lawsuit claimed a false news story had damaged her ability to cash in as first lady?—that it can be hard to keep track of what truly matters.

So here is the third installment of POLITICO’s Did-It-Matter-Meter, our ratings of TrumpWorld events according to the immediate substantive impact and the potential long-term importance. We tried to score every action Trump took in his first week, and Week Two was so wild we tried it again. This will be more of a overview, an effort to lay down preliminary markers until, as Trump said about his Muslim ban (which his aides denied was a ban even though he kept calling it a ban), “we can figure out what the hell is going on.” The basic theme is that Trump hasn’t really changed much policy yet, but there are constant signs of radical change to come.

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The Russia House: The biggest story of Month One has been the Watergate-style questions about how much Trump and his team knew about Russia’s efforts to put him in office—and beyond that, why a president who has publicly insulted war heroes, civil rights heroes, GOP leaders and U.S. allies has always had such kind words for Vladimir Putin. The president dismissed the whole controversy as “fake news” at his rambling press conference last week, but the FBI is investigating, intelligence agencies (who perhaps recall that he has compared them to Nazis) are on the case, and even a few Republicans in Congress have called for an independent look at the Kremlin connection to the election and the administration. To return to the NBA analogy, this is the kind of foul the refs could conceivably call an ejection-worthy Flagrant Two, although it’s not clear they’ll even review the video.

This mess has already led to the ouster of retired Lt. Gen. Flynn, who called the Russian ambassador the day Obama announced sanctions over the electoral interference, then falsely denied they had discussed those sanctions. There have also been reports that several of Trump’s operatives were in touch with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign (which the White House, for what it’s worth, is denying). And there are still all kinds of lingering questions—whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russian hacking; whether Trump’s unreleased tax returns would reveal anything about his ties to Russia; why FBI director James Comey made such a public fuss about Hillary Clinton’s emails while keeping his agency’s Trump investigation secret; and the classic scandal query of who knew what when. It’s hard to deny that Trump often acts strangely when the topic is Russia, like his public invitation to “Russia, if you’re listening” to hack Clinton’s emails at a campaign press conference, or his “no puppet, you’re a puppet” spluttering during one of the debates.

So far, Trump has kept Obama’s Russia sanctions in place, so there hasn’t been a direct foreign policy impact, and the scandal has not yet had the paralyzing effect on Washington of Watergate, Iran-Contra or the Monica Lewinsky fiasco. But U.S. allies in Europe are deeply worried about Trump’s soft spot for Moscow. And the firing of Flynn, a potential loose cannon on an otherwise surprisingly conventional foreign policy team, could be a deeply consequential shakeup for the world.

Hiring the Best People: Flynn’s 24-day stint in the White House was only the most prominent example of the staffing problems that have plagued Trump’s first month. Trump’s supporters hoped he would run the government like a business, but at times it has felt like his human resources department needs a bailout.

His first choice to replace Flynn, retired vice admiral Robert Harward, turned down the job, which is not something prospective national security advisers usually do. His nominee for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andy Puzder, withdrew after revelations of an undocumented nanny and domestic violence allegations. His nominee for Army secretary dropped out as well. And other controversial Trump nominees barely squeaked into office. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price got only 52 votes in the Senate, budget director Mick Mulvaney just 51, and Vice President Mike Pence had to break a tie to make Betsy DeVos secretary of education after the Senate deadlocked 50-50 on her confirmation. Trump is lagging well behind the pace of his predecessors in staffing not only his Cabinet but his entire government; the Partnership for Public Service says he has only nominated candidates for 34 of the 539 key jobs requiring confirmation.

Then again, the struggles of Price, Mulvaney and DeVos to get confirmed are less significant than the fact that Senate Republicans confirmed all three of them despite unanimous opposition from Democrats and the kind of baggage (Price’s dubious stock trades, Mulvaney’s failure to pay taxes for a nanny, DeVos’s train wreck of a hearing) that have sunk nominees in the past. It’s also significant that Price, Mulvaney and DeVos—along with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who managed to get two Democratic votes, and attorney general Jeff Sessions, who got one—are all conservative ideologues who will presumably seek dramatic rightward shifts on health, budget, education, climate and criminal justice policies. Similarly, Trump’s most important pick so far has been Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a highly respected jurist with deeply conservative legal views that could tilt American jurisprudence to the right for decades to come. Democrats aren’t going to want him on the Court, but what they want isn’t going to matter much.

By the same token, it’s significant that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who were easily confirmed, are widely viewed as responsible former generals who might be able to rein in TrumpWorld’s less restrained elements. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also seen as a grownup who understands global diplomacy, even though his tenure as ExxonMobil’s CEO remains controversial. It matters for the moment that Trump is struggling to staff the executive branch, but eventually, all those empty slots will get filled. It matters more what kind of people Trump is picking to fill them. And it may matter even more that most Republicans seem willing to approve whatever people Trump asks them to approve, because congressional Republicans have a great deal of power to rein in Trump if they want to. So far, most of them don’t seem to want to.

Many liberals watching the chaos in the White House are predicting Trump’s eventual impeachment, but that can’t happen without a lot of votes from Republicans who currently seem perfectly content to back their party leader, who is still polling well among the GOP base.

Oversight Oversights: A few Republicans have expressed concern about the White House and the Russians, but a lot more Republicans—including Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House oversight committee, and Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee—have expressed more interest in investigating leaks to the press about the White House and the Russians. With a zeal that would make Captain Queeg blush strawberry-red, Chaffetz is still investigating Clinton’s emails, but his recent list of the 43 issues his committee plans to tackle included nothing about potential conflicts between Trump’s public duties and his continuing business interests. In fact, when Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub publicly questioned Trump’s conflicts, Chaffetz threatened to investigate Shaub for speaking out rather than the subject he was speaking about.

Beyond the hypocrisy of Republicans suddenly losing their ardent passion for investigating the executive branch once their party controlled it, their see-no-evil approach should give Trump the chance to run his government as he sees fit without having to worry about embarrassing investigations or confrontational hearings. That could have a huge impact on the direction of the Trump administration—and, of course, the Trump Organization.

The first lady’s legal point that the White House is a huge money-making opportunity, while spectacularly inappropriate, happened to be true. The Trump family is now uniquely positioned to monetize public service, and the signs of blurred lines are everywhere. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort has doubled the fee for membership that now includes opportunities to hobnob with the commander-in-chief. Trump’s Washington hotel is quickly becoming the go-to location for foreign diplomats to stay and spend money. Trump angrily attacked Nordstrom when it dropped his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line, an unsubtle warning to other companies doing business with the Trumps that backing off could prompt a salvo from the White House. For a decade, Trump has sought to trademark his name in China; last week, after he broke a promise to label China a currency manipulator and agreed to recognize the One China policy, his application was finally approved. A coincidence, no doubt.

This kind of thing would be less noteworthy if Trump had agreed to sell his companies or place his assets in a blind trust. Instead, he retained his ownership stake and put his sons in charge of his companies. It has been jarring to see them (and their taxpayer-funded Secret Service detail!) at the opening of a new Trump golf resort in Dubai, or schmoozing with Republican leaders at the White House. But the president and his family have made it clear that they don’t intend to worry too much about appearances, and GOP investigators have made it clear they don’t mind.

Not Much of a Passing Game: In Obama’s first month in office, he and the Democratic Congress enacted a children’s health insurance bill extending coverage to millions of kids, an anti-discrimination bill making it easier for women to sue for equal pay, and the groundbreaking stimulus. Trump and the Republican Congress have enacted just two laws affecting policy so far: one overturning an arcane anti-corruption rule from the Obama era that forced oil companies to disclose payments to foreign governments, the other killing another Obama regulation that prevented mining companies from burying streams. Their donors from the oil and coal industries will be pleased, but those moves won’t alter the trajectory of the country. It’s too early to judge how long this inactivity will last. But it’s not too early to speculate that Republicans might find it harder than they thought to wipe out the Obama legacy through legislation. During the campaign, Trump talked about repealing Obamacare on Day One, but he hasn’t put out a plan yet, and Republicans on the Hill haven’t agreed on an approach. You also hear a lot of talk in Washington about passing tax reform, an infrastructure bill and a rollback of Obama’s financial reforms—but again, there’s no evidence of progress, and the legislative clock is ticking. And it’s not clear how passionately Trump will try to herd 535 congressional cats around legislation, or whether he’ll prefer other mechanisms for getting things done.

Less Law Than Order: So far, Trump’s preferred mechanism for making a splash has been executive orders, which seem more in tune with his “I alone can fix it” mentality. To go back to the NBA, he’s a showy shoot-first point guard at heart, not a facilitator.

Trump has signed a slew of high-profile orders signaling his intention to dismantle Obama’s health care and Wall Street reforms, build his famous border wall, roll back regulations and beef up the military. But he had already signaled his intention to do all those things, and the orders do not make any of them happen. They’re mostly campaign-style rhetoric sprinkled with “hereby,” “pursuant” and other legal jargon. One order that was hyped as action on reducing crime merely announced Washington’s latest task force on reducing crime. At the start of his second week, Trump signed an order directing his national security team to devise a plan to defeat ISIS, which raised the question of why he didn’t order it in his first week—or why his team didn’t start ginning up a plan after his election.

A few of Trump’s orders did formalize significant policy moves that everyone knew were coming—withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, undoing Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline and delaying an Obama rule cracking down on unscrupulous investment advisers. He also reinstated the “global gag rule” barring overseas funding to groups that provide abortions, just like George W. Bush did, except that Trump’s rule applied to all global health funding rather than just family planning funds, which could reshape foreign aid. Trump’s initial orders on immigration also packed more symbolism than impact—he needs funding from Congress to build the wall—but the symbolism was important in its own right. Trump officially labeled undocumented immigrants as “a significant threat to national security and public safety,” ordering the Department Homeland Security to provide a weekly list of their crimes and creating a new government office to attend to their victims. Trump made it clear he considers them dangerous enemies of the state.

The president’s refugee ban took that fear even further, blocking all citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries and all refugees from around the world from entering the U.S. It was his most significant policy move yet, but a district court judge issued a stay that was upheld by an appeals court, so the White House is now racing to rewrite it in a less sloppy way that doesn’t sweep up green card holders. Whatever happens in court, Trump has sent a clear message to the world that America will no longer be a sanctuary for its huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Fighting the Power: There’s no point sugar-coating Trump’s autocratic style. His bombastic efforts to delegitimize independent sources of authority that challenge him—journalists, judges, protesters, leakers, Democrats, the very concept of objective facts that he doesn’t get to certify as true—are hallmarks of strongmen trying to consolidate power. But so far, there’s no evidence that Trump has done anything or even tried to do anything beyond the legal limits of his authority. On the other hand, from the historic Women’s March the day after his inauguration to the court orders on refugees to the media reporting on Russia, there is already strong evidence that America’s countervailing forces to unchecked presidential power are mobilizing for a fight. The obvious exceptions are House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and their GOP conferences in Congress, who do not seem too keen on checking or balancing. But there have even been signs from a few Republicans like Justin Amash in the House and John McCain in the Senate that there are at least potential lines they won’t tolerate Trump crossing.

Trump rose to power by violating political norms and challenging governing institutions. His victory may have shattered some of those norms forever, but the next four years will test the resilience of those institutions. The judicial stay, the ousters of Flynn and Puzder, and the Russia bombshells from media outlets the White House calls “the opposition party” are all examples of institutions biting back.

The Fine-Tuned Machine: The chaotic process and inept drafting that spoiled the rollout of Trump’s refugee order was a reminder that incompetence could become another check on the power of this White House. Then again, the Republican convention and much of the Trump campaign was widely ridiculed as chaotic and inept; it all worked out pretty well for Trump. The future implications of the internal secrecy and power-jockeying around the refugee ban—Trump’s foreign policy team out of the loop, alt-right media impresario Steve Bannon taking the lead—might not be all that comforting for Trump’s critics, either.

Today, Bannon seems like the most powerful aide inside the White House, the driving force behind Trump’s hard-edged populist nationalism; he even engineered an executive order inviting himself to National Security Council meetings. He made the cover of TIME; Saturday Night Live has started portraying him as a Grim Reaper telling Trump what to do; the Twitterverse has dubbed him President Bannon. But there is also an establishment wing of the Trump administration, led by Vice President Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus and other more traditional Republicans. They all know that someone else could be ascendant tomorrow—after all, Trump’s main claim to fame used to be that he liked to fire people.

So far, though, the main consequence of all these internal power struggles seems to be policy incoherence. On foreign affairs, Pence and Mattis have been on cleanup duty, assuring allies that Trump isn’t in Russia’s pocket and doesn’t want to abandon NATO. Trump didn’t even bring Tillerson to his meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after which he declared that he doesn’t care whether there’s a one-state or two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley walked that one back, but it’s clear that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, not Tillerson, is running Middle East policy. The message has been just as muddled on issues like border taxes, what to do about Obamacare, the immigration status of Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children, the refugee ban that may or not have been a ban and much more. Administration officials keep litigating and relitigating this stuff through the press, and it’s hard to tell where any of it is heading.

The WTF Factor: The overall effect of the Trump presidency so far has been a constant invasion of America’s mental space, a never-ending viral-video barrage of He Said What? His recent press conference was a perfect example: Brazen lies about the economy and the size of his electoral victory, followed by an astonishing complaint that protesters defending Obamacare “are not the Republican people our representatives are representing,” followed by a bizarre argument that the leaks coming out of his White House about Russia are real but the news stories reporting those leaks are fake, after which he mentioned that he watches CNN even though it’s just anger and hatred, a statement he then amended by saying he doesn’t watch CNN at all anymore, which by the way is untrue. Trump also attacked a Jewish reporter who respectfully tried to ask him about the rise of anti-Semitic threats; asked a black reporter if she could set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus; and said that Flynn did nothing wrong but that he fired him anyway.

It’s exhausting. And there’s always some dude in your Facebook feed haranguing you to stop focusing on this one lie because it’s just a distraction from that other lie and you’re just doing what Trump wants you to do.
Really, all lies matter. What Trump is doing is not normal. Jeb Bush called him a chaos candidate, and he’ll be a chaos president. He will say flabbergasting things all the time, like his Black History Month tribute to Frederick Douglass as “somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more,” or his SEE YOU IN COURT tweet to the judges who just ruled against his refugee ban in, obviously, court. It’s probably wise to try not to let him elevate your blood pressure every time he attacks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings at a prayer breakfast, uses Air Force One as a campaign prop, or plays golf even though he repeatedly attacked Obama for playing golf. The point of the Did-It-Matter-Meter is to try to separate words from deeds, the fleeting rhetoric from the major policy implications. But it’s a big deal to have a president routinely saying things that sound unhinged.

It’s still early in the game, though. (Is it really only August?) Trump is still assembling his team. His approval rating is sinking, but he’s defied the polls before, and he’s defied the experts who didn’t think his game was ready for the NBA. While the president publicly insists that everything is going swimmingly—“I’m not ranting and raving,” he declared, incorrectly, during his press conference—his aides are privately much more realistic about their rocky start. Their message seems to be: Trust the Process.
Of course, that was also the message of the Philadelphia 76ers, and they still suck. But even the Sixers can’t be counted out of a game at the one-minute mark.

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Milo Yiannopoulos disinvited from CPAC slot amid tape controversy

Milo Yiannopoulos lost his keynote speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference after tapes surfaced of the right wing provocateur and senior Breitbart editor advocating for sexual relationships between “younger boys and older men.”

“Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the group which sponsors CPAC, in a statement Monday afternoon. The group called Yiannopoulos to “further address these disturbing comments,” but defended its original decision to invite him as a nod to “the free speech issue on college campuses.”

The statement went on to declare that CPAC does not endorse “everything a speaker says or does.”

President Donald Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, will be headlining this year’s event, along with top White House aides Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. But the Milo controversy quickly threatened to taint the event and raised questions about what it would mean if other speakers still attended.

CPAC organizers had a conference call at 1 p.m. on Monday to discuss the controversy and how to address it, according to a GOP source familiar with the matter. The decision to disinvite Yiannopoulos was unanimous and did not even need to be deliberated, the person said. Among those on the call were ACU board members Amy Frederick, Bob Beauprez, Mike Rose, Matt Smith, Matt Schlapp and Becky Norton Dunlop, along with Vice Chair of the ACU Foundation Millie Hallow.

The board only learned about the controversial video when it surfaced over the weekend, the source said, and it considered Yiannopoulos’ apology, posted to Facebook on Sunday night, to be inadequate.

Another GOP source familiar with the situation said Schlapp “understood this was spiraling out of control.”

Yiannopoulos was to discuss free speech on college campuses at the event.

Yiannopoulos, a senior editor at the conservative Breitbart News, is no stranger to controversy, but the CPAC’s recent embrace of the crusading anti-political correctness provocateur has been discomfiting to some conservatives. Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter after stirring up online harassment of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. And a planned Yiannopoulos event at the University of California, Berkeley was recently canceled when protests against him turned violent. The incident prompted Trump to threaten Berkeley with a loss of federal funds.

“An epidemic of speech suppression has taken over college campuses,” Schlapp told the Hollywood Reporter of Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance after it was initially reported. “Milo has exposed their liberal thuggery and we think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”

In a statement posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon, Yiannopoulos said he “deeply regret[s]” the way his comments were interpreted, and stressed that he is “horrified by pedophilia” and said he has “devoted large portions of my careers as a journalist to exposing child abusers.”

“I am a gay man, and a child abuse victim,” he wrote. “My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’”

Still, he insisted that the tapes were “edited deceptively” and that he does not “advocate for illegal behavior.”

“I am certainly guilty of imprecise language, which I regret,” he wrote.

Schlapp said in his statement that the Facebook post was “insufficient.”

Planning for the event usually starts about nine months in advance, said Gregg Keller, a former executive director of ACU. Still, it is virtually impossible to vet everything that every speaker has said on various topics, he said.

“The average person who sees this…looks at this and says how the hell do you not know about something like this?” he said, but added that even knowing Yiannopoulos’ controversial past, it would be difficult to vet all of his statements.

Some prominent conservatives seemed to suggest that CPAC had provoked the maelstrom by tying itself to such a controversial figure.

“The Milo Test,” wrote Charlie Sykes, a conservative former radio host who has written critically of the Republican Party since the rise of Trump. “Anti-Semitism, ok. Racism, ok. Alt Right, ok. Advocacy of pedophilia? Is THAT the bridge too far?”

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Trump's new warrior-scholar

President Donald Trump has picked one of the military’s leading warrior-scholars to restore order to the National Security Council — but also one who has staked out a decidedly more hawkish position on Russia and gone out of his way to assert that the war against terrorism must not morph into a war against Islam.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s newly named replacement for ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is considered one of the Army’s top intellectuals. When he was a young major he published a best-selling book about failed military leadership during the Vietnam War and later went on to help pioneer counterinsurgency operations in Iraq.

The first active-duty officer to hold the post since Colin Powell under President Ronald Reagan, he has also attained legendary status in military circles for his willingness to buck conventional wisdom.

It is a pedigree that might soon come in handy in his new post as the top national security policy official in the Trump White House.

McMaster is currently the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, where his job has been to figure out what the Army should look like in 2025 and beyond. He has placed particular emphasis on preparing to counter the kind of tactics and weapons that Russia, which he considered a rising threat to global stability, has used in its incursion in Ukraine.

This emphasis could put him at odds with Trump, who says he wants to improve relations with Russia and has expressed little concern about its aggressive behaviors in Eastern Europe and contends that Vladimir Putin can be bargained with.

But McMaster’s views will likely help build bridges with hawks in Congress who have been some of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics.

“I give President Trump great credit for this decision, as well as his national security cabinet choices,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement after the announcement. “I have had the honor of knowing [McMaster] for many years, and he is a man of genuine intellect, character, and ability. He knows how to succeed.”

McCain added that he “could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now.”

Trump announced the selection Monday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, flanked by McMaster and Keith Kellogg, a retired Army lieutenant general who was Flynn’s chief of staff and is set to stay on under McMaster.

“He’s a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” Trump said of his new national security adviser. “I watched and read a lot over the last two days. He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we’re very honored to have him.”

McMaster faces a daunting challenge trying to right the ship following the rocky tenure of Flynn, who departed after it became clear he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador.

Trump’s first pick to replace Flynn, Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward, turned down the job — in part, according to an individual familiar with his thinking, because he wasn’t given assurances he would be able to select his own staff and have autonomy from Trump’s close-knit political advisers– led by Steve Bannon, who Trump elevated to a permanent position on the National Security Council, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump had given McMaster “full authority” to hire “whatever staff he sees fit.”

But Philip Carter, a defense analyst at the Center for a New American Security, said McMaster will be tested to try to “impose order and discipline on a White House national security structure and process that has seen neither since Election Day.”

“This challenge will be particularly hard given the political winds within the White House, and the fact that McMaster comes to the White House as an outsider and relative political neophyte,” Carter said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, who has known McMaster for years, said the new national security adviser is a hard-charging and forceful personality who grasps the political challenges he will face in addition to the national security ones.

“He’s going to have to build a relationship with the boss, get in to see the boss,” said Barno. “There’s no question something he will do daily is tell the boss hard things that he doesn’t necessarily want to hear. And I think the president hired him with that expectation.”

McMaster, though, is already winning praise from GOP defense hawks on Capitol Hill.

“H.R McMaster is one of the finest combat leaders of our generation and also a great strategic mind,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in a statement. “He is a true warrior scholar, and I’m confident he will serve both the president and the country well.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, called him “quite possibly the single most talented 3-star in the U.S. military today.”

“He is accomplished across wide domains of military operations as well as integrated political-military challenges like counterinsurgency warfare in general, and fighting corruption in Afghanistan in particular,” O’Hanlon said. “He is affable and likeable and charming but not afraid to challenge and provoke.”

McMaster’s book — “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam” — is considered a key text of the military’s role in the Vietnam War. He wrote it as a major as part of his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

He served in the first Gulf War as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He played a key role with retired Gen. David Petraeus in re-writing the Army’s field manual on counterinsurgency operations — pioneering the “clear, hold, build” strategy of clearing a town with U.S. forces and then building up local security forces to maintain control.

Petraeus, in a statement to POLITICO, called McMaster “a truly strategic thinker and a great team builder with superb organizational skills.”

“I was privileged to have him lead three major strategic reviews during the Surge in Iraq and then to establish the task force on anti-corruption during the Surge in Afghanistan. He is exceedingly well qualified to serve as National Security Adviser,” he added.

McMaster was even mentioned by President George W. Bush in a 2006 speech about the war in Iraq, with Bush quoting the then-colonel’s description of Al Qaeda’s brutality.

But McMaster is also known for a willingness to ruffle feathers — and sometimes run afoul of his superiors. He was twice passed over for promotion from colonel to brigadier general before Petraeus insisted his success in Iraq be recognized, author Mark Perry wrote in POLITICO Magazine last year.

In a nod to the potential tensions that could emerge between McMaster and Trump on Russia, the new national security adviser has warned the U.S. is losing its potential edge against Russia in land warfare.

McMaster led a secret Army study of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which was designed to figure out how the Army should adapt to Russia’s military advances.

“It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort,” McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year. “In Ukraine, for example, the combination of unmanned aerial systems and offensive cyber and advanced electronic warfare capabilities depict a high degree of technological sophistication.”

In another departure from some of the rhetoric of Trump and Flynn, McMaster has sought to separate the depravity of Islamic terror groups from the wider religion.

For example in a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute, he said, “We will defeat today’s enemies, including terrorist organizations, like [the Islamic State], who cynically use a perverted interpretation of religion to incite hatred and justify horrific cruelty against innocents.”

He joins an administration that includes many retired generals, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Some defense analysts remain concerned about what they see as the militarization of the national security apparatus.

“Like Mattis, McMaster’s appointment commands great respect because of his military record, but also raises civil-military relations questions,” Carter said. “This continues a pattern of President Trump using military personnel and institutions to do political things. One of McMaster’s great challenges will be to resist Trump’s further politicization of the military, and do so while on active duty.”

But Max Boot, a conservative military scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime critic of Trump, spoke for many so-called “Never Trumpers” in the Republican Party.

“McMaster is one of the most impressive army officers of his generation–a rare combination of soldier and scholar,” Boot said. “I cannot imagine a better choice for national security adviser.

Yet like many he also has doubts that McMaster can succeed if Trump’s does not moderate his rhetoric and insists on giving both Bannon and Kushner their own foreign policy portfolios.

“Not even the most talented individual will succeed in that job as long as Bannon and Kushner continue to run their own foreign policies and as long as Trump continues to make outlandish statements questioning basic American commitments and valued allies.”

Connor O’Brien and Michael Crowley contributed to this report.

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Top Musicians to Perform at God’s Love We Deliver Benefit Concert

On Match 9th, top artists will go on stage to perform for a noble humanitarian course. The concert aims at supporting the God’s Love We Deliver to raise funds to feed individuals suffering from serious diseases around New York metropolitan areas.

 

As a way of attracting a significant number of donors, the organization recruited over artists to grace the occasion. Normally, musicians always enhance the glamor of the event through their exciting performances. Besides, many people love seeing their favorite artists perform and hence many of them are likely to attend the concert to have an experience with the performers. This will increase the amount that would be raised from the ticket charges.

 

The show has a list of top musicians and vocalists expected to grace it that day. Some of these glorified performers include Cyndi Lauper, Mavis Stapples, Jackson Brown, William Bell and Gary Clark and many more. The attendants will also be thrilled by a live band performance from the legendary Paul Shaffer. Besides, the artists that have worked with Clapton and Bob Dylan bands will perform.

 

The nonprofit organization has been in existent for the last 31 years. In the March 2017 event, the NGO will analyze and highlight on their achievements for the all these years. They will reveal the number of lives in New York they have been able to help since their inception. Additionally, the organization will lay a foundation to help continue reaching out to more individuals suffering from serious health complications.

 

God’s Love We Deliver is responsible for organizing the event. John Varvatos and Greg Williamson have come forward to assist the organization in the planning the event as a way of making sure it succeeds. John is a designer by profession and is willing to bring in his expertise in his field in designing the venue. Greg is a seasoned real estate executive.

 

The concert will go down at Beacon Theatre in Manhattan. If you are one of the people willing to support the underprivileged in the society, then the concert gives you that opportunity. All you need to do is secure a ticket for the New York City Concert. You can buy your ticket online by visiting the Ticketmaster website as from the January 28th. By buying the ticket, you would have donated towards the initiative.

 

Four weeks into his presidency, Trump returns to campaign mode

MELBOURNE, Fla. — President Donald Trump’s rally here on Saturday featured all the classic signatures of his campaign: boasts about his poll numbers and magazine appearances, grandiose promises of quick action, protesters lining the streets, stinging attacks on the media, false statements and a large, roaring and adoring crowd that loved every minute.

It was a raucous campaign appearance — light on specifics and heavy on braggadocio — just four weeks after he was inaugurated and almost four years before he faces reelection.

Stung by the difficulties of governing, a cascade of negative news coverage and falling poll numbers, the president appeared in a flag-draped airport hangar to show that his supporters still love him and castigate the media for covering his missteps.

He cast the first month of his administration in his terms, praising his pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court and the stock market’s climb since he took office. He boasted about his conversations with CEOs and ticked off companies that were bringing jobs to the United States — or keeping ones they previously said would move elsewhere.

He told the crowd of his efforts to lower taxes on corporations, reduce environmental regulations and repeal the Affordable Care Act, though usually without concrete details. He talked generally — as he did in the campaign — about his efforts to support police officers, boost the military and fix the country’s “inner cities,” like Chicago.

On the short plane trip here from his weekend stay at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump said the speech would be about unifying the country. It was instead harsh and pitted the crowd, on his side, against a number of supposed foes — judges, unknown gang members and drug cartels allegedly pouring in from other countries, terrorists, Democrats and, most often, reporters.

“We are going to expose them for what they are,” Trump said of the news media, which sat in a pen as his supporters heckled. At one moment, the president said the nation’s news media made up sources and stories and that his supporters should live “free” without the media.

He didn’t mention his popularity ratings — at about 45 percent, far lower than his predecessors — and his rocky four weeks in office. The president, angry about the barrage of negative coverage, has told allies he wants more news conferences — like a 77-minute one Thursday — and rallies like Saturday’s in Florida.

Air Force One rolled up here around a blazing sunset on a balmy afternoon, with thousands standing against barricades and the Lee Greenwood song “Proud to be an American” coming from the speakers.

Trump’s supporters say he is happiest amid the glaring lights and the applause, and when he gets to work as his own spokesman. “I’ve said for two months he needs to be doing more rallies,” said Newt Gingrich, a top surrogate. “He will never be the leader of Washington. He is always going to be opposed by Washington. That requires him to go to the country.”

The problem, Trump’s critics and even some of his supporters say, is he appears far more interested in campaigning than governing. His administration has been rocked by a number of crises and problems, from a federal investigation into his campaign’s engagement with Russian officials to the departure of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, amid controversy.

He has struggled to fill the federal government to carry out his policy goals, with top political positions empty across the bureaucracy as advisers spar over appointments. He often is unable to focus for long periods of time, aides say, and remains deeply interested in cable TV and calling old friends back in New York.

Top lawmakers say Trump’s changing positions and his frequent tweets on issues have caused problems in getting things done, and officials note he has at times seemed slow to grasp crucial parts of the federal government.

He has spent part of his fifth weekend in office trying to replace Flynn. His allies are flying across the globe to calm rattled foreign leaders.

Aboard the short flight from Mar-a-Lago to Melbourne, Trump dismissed criticism that he should be focused more on governing than campaigning. “Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign. To make America great again is absolutely a campaign,” he said.

The scenes playing out here could have come from Ohio, or Michigan, or Florida, in October during an acrimonious campaign. About 9,000 people, according to the Melbourne Police Department, crowded into the hangar, carrying “Hillary for Prison” signs, waving pompoms and winding almost a mile outside the airport. Classic hits played during the campaign — like “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra — blared from the speakers.

A speaker who introduced Trump said he would be a great president, seemingly forgetting that he had already won. “Drain the swamp!” the crowd yelled. “CNN sucks!” the crowd yelled.

And Trump frequently painted a dire, bleak situation that “only I can fix,” as he famously said.

“We don’t win on trade, we don’t win in any capacity,” Trump said. “We’re going to start winning again.”

He seemed determined to convince the crowd his administration was doing well, while also convincing them that things are terrible and he “inherited a mess,” as he frequently says.

He blamed Democrats for not confirming his appointments, not mentioning that hundreds of key appointments haven’t been made. He talked about the rising stock market and the number of companies bringing jobs into the country. He crowed about deporting “drug dealers” who are illegal immigrants, not mentioning the fear his administration has caused in cities across the country. Restaurants, for example, shut down Thursday in solidarity against him.

He blamed a judge for the problems with his executive order on immigrants, not mentioning the chaos that even his aides privately admitted happened when he signed it while leaving many agency officials, White House aides and others out of the loop.

“The White House is running so smoothly,” he said, contrary to accounts of dysfunction in the West Wing from his own aides, allies and supporters.

Trump promised to cut taxes and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, giving few specifics. Congressional leaders say such an effort has been damaged by his changing positions and his administration’s seeming inability to focus.

He vowed to build a wall along the Mexican border but didn’t offer his traditional call-and-response with the crowd that Mexico would pay for it. He talked about the struggles in the economy while also bragging about how it was improving.

His supporters seemed to think his problems in office thus far have all been one conspiracy against him. “He’s keeping all his promises,” said Ligia Rodriguez, who lives near the rally site. “He’s done more in one month than Obama did in eight years.”

Her husband, Miguel, stood nearby. He also said Trump was doing a good job in office, and “he’s saying what everyone wants to hear, and it’s a good message.”

“I just think he needs to learn how to get things done,” he said. “There’s a lot of contention around him.”

After he spoke, hordes of supporters gathered in front of the cameras, waving their Trump signs, mocking and simultaneously trying to secure the attention of camera operators they feel ignore them. Across the country, his administration is facing near-daily protests.

In some ways, it appeared as if the 2020 election had already begun.

“It’s a movement that’s sweeping across the country; it’s sweeping across the globe,” Trump said.

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How an American Bureaucrat Became President of Somalia

On the morning of February 8, a civil servant from Buffalo, New York—a Somali by birth but an American by choice—walked into a heavily guarded airplane hangar in the battle-scarred capital of his native country where an important vote was about to take place. When he emerged that night, he was president. His surprise victory, which was celebrated with gunfire and camel slaughter in Mogadishu and high-fives at the Buffalo office of the New York Department of Transportation, where he was still technically employed as an equal opportunity compliance officer, was all the more remarkable because it came at the very moment a federal court in the U.S. was deciding the fate of a travel ban that targeted refugees exactly like him.

The story of how Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed came to be the leader of a country that is synonymous with anarchy and terrorism is both a classic American immigrant’s tale and one about the age-old conflict between basic democratic principles and the forces of political corruption. It begins in 1988, when Mohamed, then a first secretary for the Somali embassy in Washington, D.C., decided it was too dangerous to return home and applied for asylum. Back then, the U.S. was inclined to say yes to such requests.

Over the next 25 years, he earned degrees in history and political science, served on local campaigns and acted as a spokesman for other refugees as an elected official, slowly absorbing the lessons of civil society and the basics of American midmanagement that he knew he wanted one day to bring back to Somalia. He had become, in some ways, an export-ready product. Not soybeans or computer chips but democratic values.

“He’s always had an interest to go back and try to bring peace,” said Joel Giambra, a former county executive in Erie County, New York for whom Mohamed campaigned, then worked for, starting in 1999. “That was always his ambition.”

There are those who say that Mohamed, 54, who ran for president on an anti-corruption platform, bought his way to victory. Those same people say it’s the ironic but inevitable cost of doing business in a still desperately unstable country. But tainted results or not, some say Mohamed, with his decades of experience in American governance, could be the very partner the United States needs to fight international terrorism originating in the Horn of Africa. “What I think Mohamed brings is, hopefully, the technocratic understanding of how U.S. democracy works,” said Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, a programs officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace. “I think that’s a skill set that the two former presidents did not necessarily have.”

In fact, the refugee-turned-president might just be one of the most powerful arguments against a travel ban like President Donald Trump’s, which would have barred Mohamed’s entry to the U.S.—it ultimately diminishes American influence abroad.

***

Mohamed had never been eager to leave Somalia. He was born into a well-connected clan, and his father, who spent much of his life under Italian colonial rule, was a government employee. He nicknamed his son “Farmaajo,” which is a local version of the Italian word for cheese, one of the boy’s favorite foods. After graduating from secondary school, Mohamed had access to a job with the foreign ministry, and in 1985 he was sent to Washington, D.C., to work in Somalia’s embassy. But in 1988, Mohamed criticized Somalia’s authoritarian government, and, fearing he could not return home safely, he requested political asylum in the United States.

Mohamed brought his wife to Buffalo, where a community of Somali refugees had begun to settle a few years earlier. They moved into public housing while he pursued a bachelor’s degree in history at New York State University in Buffalo. A year after his graduation, Mohamed’s fellow tenants elected him as resident commissioner, which automatically placed him on Buffalo’s Municipal Housing Authority. He earned a reputation as a community organizer who Buffalo immigrant and Muslim voters looked toward for leadership. In 1999, Mohamed rallied minority voters to support Giambra, a Democrat-turned-Republican running for county executive, and Mohamed registered as a Republican. When Giambra won, Mohamed took a job in his office as the county’s minority-business coordinator. He parlayed that, in 2002, into a similar job with New York’s Department of Transportation. For eight years, Mohamed enforced nondiscrimination and affirmative-action requirements among state-employed contractors—policies that are totally alien to Somalia, where government jobs depend on clan membership and public lands are practically given away to friends and allies of those in power.

The people Mohamed worked with during those years describe him as a kind and humble family man. But his ambition was evident, too, and it wasn’t just to improve the percentage of minority hires by DOT contractors. He earned a master’s degree in political science at New York State University in Buffalo. His thesis was titled: “U.S. Strategic Interest in Somalia.”

“We all got the sense that he just had a passion, and a heart for his country,” said Janine Shepherd, who worked in the cubicle next to Mohamed at the New York Department of Transportation. “He was always really bothered by the corruption there.”

“We had extensive conversations about developing countries that were authoritarian and what the steps were to achieve democracy,” said professor Donald Grinde, his thesis adviser. They discussed the different models of democratic governance, warlordism and religious extremism. “He understands that democracy is an imperfect exercise,” Grinde said, “both in Somalia and the United States. But I think he would think it’s far better than the alternative.”

In his thesis, Mohamed identified “Islamic extremists” as a major obstacle toward stability in Somalia. Al-Shabab and other terrorist organizations, he argued, were able to flourish because of the United States’ ill-advised policy in the region. “The Somali people have been victim of colonialism, dictatorship, and warlord thugs,” Mohamed wrote. “Now, they are at the crossroad of two extremist ideologies: George W. Bush’s Christian ideology on one hand, and Islamic radicalism on the other, which want to wage a holy war on each other not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Somalia as well. Sadly, the people who ultimately suffer most form the majority: they do not subscribe to these radical ideologies.”

In 2010, not even a year after receiving his master’s, Mohamed got a chance to talk about these issues with someone who actually could do something about them. The then-president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, came to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, and Mohamed, via friends of friends, arranged a meeting. According to Mohamed, he wanted to give the president his advice—one manager to another—on what Somalia could due to cut down on corruption. The meeting went well; so well, in fact, that a few days later, Mohamed received a phone call from the president’s staff. He was on the president’s short list for prime minister.

After discussing it with his wife, Mohamed asked his supervisor for three weeks of vacation, explaining he would go to Mogadishu for an interview, and there was a chance he wouldn’t come back. A month later, in Somalia, Mohamed was sworn in to his new position.

***

Mohamed’s sudden ascension to prime minister wasn’t as strange as it seems.

Diaspora politicians make up a third of Somalia’s federal parliament. It’s one of the quirks of a country that doesn’t have the kind of governmental farm teams that more developed democracies do. A Somali-American who spent most of his life in California returned in 2011 to become the country’s defense minister, and this year, of Somalia’s 24 presidential candidates, nine held American passports. The most amazing homecoming story of all is probably from 1996, when tribal elders elected to the presidency Hussein Mohammed Farah, a 33-year-old corporal in the Marine Reserves who a year earlier was making $9 an hour as a clerk in the suburbs of Los Angeles. (In that instance, it probably helped that the marine’s father was Mohammed Farah Aidid, a self-declared president who died in a firefight a year earlier; Aidid was also the general who fought against the Marine Corps in the battle immortalized in the book and movie Black Hawk Down.)

In fact, among the seven countries included in Trump’s attempted ban, most boast influential officials who spent time in the United States, usually to attend school. Former prime ministers in Yemen and Libya attended American universities. One of them, Shukri Ghanem, was a reformer who worked, with some success, to push Muammar Qadhafi toward reconciliation with the west. Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister who oversaw negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, went to a private high school in San Francisco and received a B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. An influential rebel leader from Sudan who was a key player in the country’s 2005 peace agreement, John Garang, attended Grinnell College in an Iowa town of 9,000 surrounded by cornfields.

Foreign leaders who’ve spent time in the United States can frequently, if not every time, give the United States government a leg up when conducting diplomacy. Giambra argues that that will definitely be the case with Mohamed: “I believe he would love the opportunity to collaborate with the United States,” he said. “He always said to me that the most effective way to eradicate terrorism in the United States is to stop it in Somalia.”

When Mohamed began his tenure as prime minister in September 2010, he did in fact work to push back al-Shabab, Somalia’s largest terrorist group, and he helped the army to establish the rule of law in 60 percent of Mogadishu. But what really won Mohamed the love of the people was his reputed distaste for corruption. He reduced the size of a bloated Cabinet from 39 to 18 and nominated others from the diaspora like himself. He required all of them to declare their assets and sign a code of ethics, a policy he possibly picked up from his time working for the New York state government, where he was required to sign a “Public Officers Law.” Mohamed also drew on his experience as a bureaucrat in Buffalo to establish a system in which commanding officers could not keep for themselves the stipends that were meant for rank-and-file soldiers.

Not everyone is convinced that Mohamed deserves the popular support he enjoys. “The improvements in Somalia have been in spite of the government, not because of the government,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. Pham believes that, for the most part, Mohamed benefited from low expectations and that credit for keeping the country stable should go to the African Union forces, which did much of the work to help secure Mogadishu and fight back al-Shabab. “Anybody would have been an improvement over the president that appointed him,” said Pham, “who was widely acknowledged to have stolen roughly 96 percent of bilateral aid.” That’s $72.7 million that simply went missing.

But regardless of one’s opinion on Mohamed’s efficacy, his status as a popular hero in Somalia was cemented in June 2011, when Mohamed fell victim to a backroom deal engineered by President Sharif Ahmed, the man who appointed Mohamed, and Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, the speaker of parliament who was aspiring to the presidency himself and saw Mohamed as a roadblock to his ambitions. The two men agreed to postpone elections until August 2012, giving Ahmed another year of power. As part of the deal, he would have to dismiss his popular prime minister.

The blowback was immediate. Rioters took to the streets in support of Mohamed. They burned tires and set bonfires, blocking peacekeepers from getting to their destinations. Soldiers, who Mohamed had won the loyalty of by guaranteeing their pay, abandoned their posts and joined the protests, waving pictures of Mohamed above their heads.

The deed was done, however, and Mohamed no longer had a reason to stay in Somalia. He returned to his wife and kids in Buffalo, and resumed his position as a regional compliance specialist for the New York Department of Transportation, with a salary of $83,954 a year and the promise of a state pension after only seven more years of service.

***

“He wasn’t the same,” said Galloway, describing an encounter with Mohamed after he had returned to Buffalo. “You could tell within his demeanor that he wasn’t back in Buffalo without intention to return to Somalia.”

Giambra agreed: “After he came back, he was disappointed, but he was committed and determined to go back and give it another chance.”

“We were all a little surprised,” said Shepherd, describing the moment Mohamed returned to his cubicle in Buffalo. “We could all sense from him that there was something more out there for him.”

Mohamed was glad to be reunited with his family, and there were some things he definitely didn’t miss about being prime minister. Five of his bodyguards had been killed, and he never forgot the sound of bullets hitting the reinforced windows of his house. But his colleagues were right that he hadn’t given up on his political dreams in Somalia. He decided to run for president in 2012. Mohamed, along with his former Cabinet members, established a new political party called Tayo—meaning “quality” in Somali. Mohamed lost in the first round of voting, winning barely 5 percent of the vote. As a parting shot—payback might be a better term—he threw his support behind the candidate running against the incumbent president, the man who had dismissed him as prime minister. Mohamed’s man won.

Mohamed wasn’t done. Almost immediately, he began to lay the groundwork for another run. He made trips to Somali communities around the world, places such as Minneapolis, Columbus and even Oslo, Norway. These are where many of the kingmakers who can decide Somali elections live. Diaspora communities are also a great source for campaign contributions. In 2015, he stepped up his campaigning, frequently taking leave from work. “He traveled extensively in preparation for this,” said Giambra. “He was very methodical and deliberate.”

Mohamed was using a playbook familiar to any American campaign, but news agencies were reporting that the election was shaping up to be a classically Somalian affair, possibly one of the most corrupt in the country’s checkered history. Security was so bad that a national election couldn’t be held. Just two weeks before voting, a car bomb attack on a Mogadishu hotel killed 28. That meant that once again it would be up to the 328 members of parliament, a notoriously bribe-susceptible group of politicians. Market prices for a vote were high, observers said. The incumbent president, who by all reports had only exacerbated corruption in Somalia during his tenure, was widely reported to have offered $50,000 to anyone who voted for him in the secret ballot.

On Election Day, parliamentarians met in a heavily guarded airport hangar in Mogadishu. African Union peacekeepers stood watch outside, wary of attacks by al-Shabab. The parliamentarians were forbidden from taking large amounts of cash or cellphones into the hangar, lest the voting floor devolve into a televised auction for votes as it had in the past. In the first round of voting, 17 of 21 candidates were eliminated. Then an additional candidate withdrew, leaving three contenders: Mohamed, incumbent president Mohamud, and former president Ahmed—the same man who had appointed and dismissed Mohamed seven years earlier.

To the shock of international news outlets, few of whom considered Mohamed a major contender, the bureaucrat from Buffalo won more than 50 percent of votes in the second round. Former President Ahmed was eliminated, and while the rules required that the eventual victor win two-thirds of votes, President Mohamud, who trailed Mohamed significantly in the second round, conceded defeat. While thousands rushed into the streets of Mogadishu and soldiers celebrated by firing their automatic weapons into the air, Mohamed declared in a televised victory speech that, “This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against al-Shabab and corruption.”

News reports largely confirmed that significant amounts of money had changed hands, despite the attempts to limit the vote-buying. According to Abdi Ismail Samatar, a University of Minnesota professor who was part of a commission appointed by parliament to observe the election process and stop the exchange of cash on the voting floor, there is little reason to believe any of the major candidates—Mohamed included—had abstained. “I am quite confident that all of the four or five major candidates were deeply implicated in the buying of votes,” Samatar told POLITICO. “That includes the incoming President Mohamed.”

Mohamed and his office could not be reached for comment.

But the reports of a corrupt election have not dimmed public enthusiasm for the civil servant who ran on the platform to clean up the Mogadishu swamp. Celebrations in the streets revealed a populace that was ecstatic to have a president who won their affection years ago—not a blatantly corrupt consensus choice of the clan elders.

“Farmaajo has come back to the country and the people are united,” a young Somali man told Agence France-Presse. “Welcome, Farmaajo, we are under the sun because of you.”

U.S. officials might be feeling equally sunny about his prospects. Here is a man well-versed in the ways of American politics, who is deeply popular in his country, vocally supportive of beating back the forces of Islamic terrorism and committed to bringing stability to the failing institutions that often enable groups like al-Shabab to thrive.

“You have someone who is a success story who can then talk about, ‘Hey, America is not what I thought it was. They opened their arms and now I understand how American democracy works,'” said Muhammad Fraser-Rahim. “I think that is only a win for the U.S.”

“I think there was a degree of pleasant surprise when he was elected president,” said Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “Not just because of his connections to the U.S., but because of his previous stint as prime minister.”

Of course, Mohamed’s election alone will not solve Somalia’s problems. According to John Mukum Mbaku of the Brookings Institution, Mohamed has no hope of clamping down on corruption if he cannot strengthen the weak institutions that enable it. And as president in a constitutional system that depends on foreign financial support, he cannot enact reform through force of will alone. “Given the way that Somalia is, effective reform in the country will require the assistance of much more than just Mohamed himself,” said Mbaku. Others, like Pham, question whether Mohamed will be capable of reform at all. “We should entertain no delusions about the sort of partner we have in Farmaajo—and his limitations. Some of the over-the-top optimism of the last few days is simply not justified.”

Downie put it bluntly: “You could put Nelson Mandela in as president of Somalia and probably the same mess would persist.”

Still, the enthusiasm, justified or not, has spread. Even Abdi Ismail Samatar, the election observer who doubts Mohamed won a clean victory, finds reason for hope. “There is an incredible public hunger for a clean government,” said Samatar, “and therefore, regardless of what the process was like, and any money he used, there is a fantastic opportunity for him to march the country in a different direction.”

On his first day in office, Mohamed did take a small step forward. Avoiding any appearance of double-dipping, he resigned from the New York Department of Transportation.

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Democrats seek to quell Trump impeachment talk

They call it the ‘I’ word.

Just a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, Democratic Party leaders are trying to rein in the talk of impeachment that’s animating the grass roots, the product of a restive base demanding deeper and more aggressive investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia.

Democratic officials in Republican-dominated Washington view the entire subject as a trap, a premature discussion that could backfire in spectacular fashion by making the party appear too overzealous in its opposition to Trump. Worse, they fear, it could harden Republican support for the president by handing his party significant fundraising and political ammunition when the chances of success for an early impeachment push are remote, at best.

“We need to assemble all of the facts, and right now there are a lot of questions about the president’s personal, financial and political ties with the Russian government before the election, but also whether there were any assurances made,” said California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Before you can use the ‘I’ word, you really need to collect all the facts.”

“The ‘I’ word we should be focused on,” added Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan Boyle, “is ‘investigations.'”

The problem for party lawmakers is that the hard-to-placate Democratic base has assumed a stop-Trump-at-all-costs posture. At a recent town hall in Albany, Oregon, Sen. Ron Wyden faced three questions about the issue. Rep. Jim McGovern, who was also confronted with the impeachment question at an event in Northampton, Mass., told his constituents it’s not the right strategy for the moment, according to local reports. In California, a real estate broker has launched a challenge to Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher using a new “Impeach Trump Leadership PAC.”

But it’s not just furious rank-and-file Democrats who are raising the idea. A handful of Democratic House progressives — among them California Rep. Maxine Waters, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin and Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro — have already publicly raised the specter of impeachment.

Waters has said she thinks Trump is marching himself down the path to impeachment, while Raskin — whose office was presented last week with a petition carrying more than 850,000 signatures calling for impeachment — has repeatedly brought up the prospect of voting for impeachment “at some point” in rallies and interviews. Castro has said Trump should be impeached if the president repeatedly instructs Customs and Border Protection officials to ignore federal judges’ orders.

Some have read New York Rep. Jerry Nadler’s “resolution of inquiry” that could force the Department of Justice to share information about Trump’s Russian ties and conflicts of interest as a way to further lay the groundwork for impeachment.

“You see immense energy from people who want to resist the president. And that’s affecting the Congress,” said California Rep. Ted Lieu, who has said that a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would impeach Trump. “A recent poll came out saying that 46 percent of Americans want the president impeached, and certainly members of Congress take notice.”

Still, most congressional Democrats insist on drawing a line that stops far short of using the loaded term. Responding to Waters’ impeachment chatter this month, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “When and if he breaks the law, that is when something like that would come up. But that’s not the subject of today.”

They believe that even if they did have enough evidence to start impeachment proceedings — which they don’t, since a number of investigations are still in their early stages, and Democrats can’t just impeach a president because they don’t like him — they wouldn’t have anywhere near enough votes as long as Trump-sympathetic Republicans control the majority.

Neither party leadership nor the campaign committees have circulated talking points or suggested ways to respond to impeachment questions that are starting to appear. But they are already aware of the potential electoral blowback to the party.

The mere mention of impeachment on the left has already kicked off a fundraising frenzy on the Republican side, with both the GOP House and Senate campaign wings raising cash off it — much like Democrats did under President Barack Obama when Republicans speculated about the prospect.

“No president has EVER endured the level of disrespect shown to President Trump. (It’s sickening) Unprecedented obstruction from the left on his cabinet nominees. Mockery and scorn from the liberal media. And now the liberal elite are calling for his impeachment … IN HIS FIRST MONTH,” reads a National Republican Senatorial Committee email from last week.

Since 12 House Democrats sit in seats won by Trump while 23 House Republicans serve districts won by Hillary Clinton, party operatives eyeing gains in the chamber fear that crossover voters could turn against Democrats if their party is perceived as reckless in its pursuit of Trump.

Nonetheless, the pressure to stand in Trump’s way has amped up on the ground in the days since the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, say party officials, and Democratic voters appear poised to pounce on any further revelations.

“The energy right now is really on Congress and trying to get some Republicans to find some backbone. As we see the Flynn stuff and the question of who asked him to make the call, that could change as it develops,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who’s been touring his state in a series of town hall meetings. “But for the moment people are focused on the most productive avenues for their frustrations, like ‘Call Pat Tiberi’ or ‘Tell Rob Portman to vote against Scott Pruitt.’”

Rather than pursuing impeachment, most Hill Democrats are focusing their energies on persuading colleagues across the aisle to publicly support or join their investigations, viewing that as the most productive path forward. The brewing voter anger can only help them reach that goal, they believe.

“Both Democrats and Republicans are going home for the next 10 days for our district work period, and I suspect Republicans are going to hear a lot from home, from their constituents,” said Swalwell. “Before Flynn resigned, as this was boiling up over the weekend, Republicans I would run into in town would start to say, ‘What is going on?’ Even those who were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Senate Democratic leadership is for now content with the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee taking the lead, while others have called for an independent, 9/11-style commission looking into Trump’s Russian ties. Urging the creation of such a group, the Democratic National Committee proclaimed that the scandal was already “bigger than Watergate.”

Those ever-more-popular comparisons to Richard Nixon, accordingly, are as close to impeachment talk as most Democrats will get.

“There are eerie parallels,” said Boyle, “between the 1972 campaign going into ’73 and the beginning of the Watergate hearings, and the experience of 2016 going into 2017.”

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Reality collides with Trump's promises

President Donald Trump touts “incredible progress” in his first month in office. But the frenetic period that opened with an inaugural address about “American carnage” and ended with a raucous campaign rally has brought a spotty record that falls short of his promises.

Despite dizzying sound and fury, the president failed to halt immigration from Muslim countries, to label China a currency manipulator, to deliver a serious plan for funding his border wall or to repeal Obamacare—all among his many promises during last year’s campaign. He even weakened ethics rules affecting lobbyists, in the guise of a promised ban.

The Muslim travel ban, Trump’s most consequential and controversial executive order, one of 23 signed so far, lies dead in the courts. He has achieved no noticeable progress on tax reform. The White House is already facing multiple investigations by a Republican-controlled Congress while the intelligence community investigates possible collusion last year between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Trump has appointed just three of the 15 required deputy secretary Cabinet positions; fewer than 40 of the 700 key administration jobs requiring Senate confirmation have been filled.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said Trump was “off to the worst start of a presidency in a very long time”—and that was two days after he’d taken office, before Trump’s bellicose calls with foreign leaders, before his National security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after just 24 days in the job, before he attacked the nation’s independent courts and declared the media an “enemy of the American people.”

“There’s no precedent in the modern history of the presidency for what we’ve seen over the last month,” said Republican operative Steve Schmidt. “If you combine the dishonesty, the sloppiness and incompetence, the result is deep concern and anxiety across allied capitals, glee in the capitals of foreign enemies, and an American public that regard him one month in with the lowest levels of support in the modern era. We’ve just never seen an American administration collapse from a credibility perspective as quickly as this one has.”

According to Gallup, Trump’s 40 percent approval rating after one month is 21 points below the historical average rating for new presidents in mid-February and 11 points below the lowest mid-February rating for any other new president.

In Great Britain, where Trump may not be extended the courtesy of an invitation to speak before both houses of Parliament, betting markets are seeing increasing action on the odds of Trump’s possible impeachment. “We’ve taken five times the amount of bets on him failing to see out his full term than on him doing so,” said Jessica Bridge, a spokesperson for Ladbrokes, a British betting market.

At his news conference last week, Trump touted what he views as significant accomplishments during his first month on the job, calling his talks with foreign leaders “enormously productive,” noting that he has already instructed Secretary of Defense James Mattis to submit a plan to defeat ISIS, developed a new council to promote female entrepreneurs and outlined plans to bolster the military and local law enforcement agencies.

Mostly, he spoke in generalities. “I’m keeping my promises to the American people,” he said. “These are campaign promises. Some people are so surprised that we’re having strong borders.”

Trump appears likely to stick to those generalities with the general public, particularly among excited supporters who may be less concerned with the details and more interested in his commitment to decimating the Washington establishment.

“He’s beginning to understand where his power truly lies. Washington is not a safe space for Trump,” said Bruce Haynes, a GOP consultant.

“Trump in the White House feels like a lion caged up in the zoo,” Haynes said. “When he escapes Washington, he is in his natural habitat and becomes his full and complete self. I expect him to find ways to spend more time outside of D.C., with the voters who made him their champion, as opposed to inside D.C., with the bureaucracy that is threatened by him and wants to emasculate him.”

Rallying supporters in Melbourne, Florida, Saturday evening, Trump reveled further in his unlikely electoral win and celebrated the “great movement” he leads, one that is defined mostly in opposition to large blocs and institutions: organized political parties, cultural and socioeconomic “elites” and, most of all, the mass media. “They could not defeat us in the primaries, and they could not defeat us in the general election, and we will continue to expose them for what they are, and most important, we will continue to win, win, win.”

If the scoreboard, aside from a healthy stock market, does not seem to reflect much winning just yet, Trump has an easy explanation — that he “inherited a mess,” a notable shift from his promise last July that “I alone can fix it.”

Now ensconced behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, Trump blames the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for striking down his travel ban, which was hastily signed without thorough vetting by legal experts and the agencies directed to implement it. He blames the intelligence community for leaking damaging information about Flynn and other investigations rather than the former adviser, who admitted to misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador. He blames nameless staffers for giving him false information and, more than anything, the media for its reporting stories he has taken to dismissing as “fake news.”

Despite those attacks on the media, Trump’s own credibility has been weakened by a torrent of falsehoods coming from top surrogates, his Twitter feed and his mouth: unsupported or easily disproved assertions about the inauguration crowd size, crime statistics, claims of fraudulent voting even though he won the election, the size of his Electoral College victory and, on Saturday, a passing statement about a recent terror attack in Sweden. (There wasn’t one.)

Though Trump’s victory validated his cult-of-personality approach to politics, it is no guarantee that the same approach will be effective when it comes to governing itself. Doubts are growing, for instance, among national security experts in both parties about the new administration’s preparedness for its first serious geopolitical test.

“The National Security Council hasn’t even met formally. So that means that the very structure that is required in order to provide thoughtful and careful information to the president is not working right now,” Leon Panetta, a Democrat who served as CIA director and secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What happens if there’s a major crisis that faces this country? If Russia engages in a provocation, if Iran does something stupid, if North Korea does something stupid, and we have to respond, where is the structure to be able to evaluate that threat, consider it, and provide options to the president? Right now, that’s dysfunctional, and that’s what worries me a great deal.”

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, were far more optimistic a month ago about realizing the potential of a governing moment in which they control both houses of Congress and the White House than they are now.

Although relieved that Trump nominated a competent and charismatic conservative, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court, GOP lawmakers are increasingly frustrated by the president’s inability to focus and worry about their legislative agenda bogging down in a quagmire of daily controversies and petty fights. Many of them, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have expressed dismay about the president’s constant tweeting.

Sen. John McCain, an elder GOP statesman with little to lose politically at the outset of his final six-year term, is emerging as one of his party’s most outspoken anti-Trump voices after delivering a speech this weekend to NATO allies in Munich that was a stunning rebuke to the president.

Suggesting the postwar global democratic order is now threatened by “an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism,” McCain lamented that the founders of the Munich Conference “would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

McCain went further in an interview broadcast Sunday morning on “Meet the Press,” sounding an alarm about Trump’s constant efforts to undermine and weaken the media. “We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press.

“And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time,” McCain said. “That’s how dictators get started.”

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