A Conspiracy So Immense, II

Peter Baker in the New York Times:

So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer.

The question, which came from a friendly interviewer, not one of the “fake media” journalists he disparages, was “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he declared. But it is a question that has hung over his presidency now for two years.

If the now 23-day government shutdown standoff between Mr. Trump and Congress has seemed ugly, it may eventually seem tame by comparison with what is to come. The border wall fight is just the preliminary skirmish in this new era of divided government. The real battle has yet to begin.

The polls (CNN, ABC-WaPo) say the public is blaming Trump and the Republicans for the government shutdown much more than they blame the Democrats. Republicans in Congress must be grateful Trump is pulling this stupid stunt just after an election and not before it. But now that we’re in longest-shutdown-ever territory, the situation is becoming increasingly perilous.

Do read this analysis at WaPo about how we got into this mess. Apparently just about every Republican in Washington begged Trump to not start a shutdown.

In the weeks leading up to December’s deadline to fund the government, Trump was warned repeatedly about the dangers of a shutdown but still opted to proceed, according to officials with knowledge of the conversations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the president that he had no leverage and that, without a clear strategy, he would be “boxed in a canyon.” He tried to make the case to Trump that even if Pelosi and Schumer were interested in cutting a deal with him, they would be constrained from compromising because of internal Democratic Party pressures to oppose Trump’s wall, these officials said.

Then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) talked with Trump by phone for 45 minutes the day before the shutdown, warning that he saw no way to win as he paced in a Capitol hallway just outside a conference room where House Republicans were meeting. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned about the perils of a shutdown during the Christmas season.

Inside, some of the more hard-line members urged a showdown over border wall funding, arguing that Trump’s core supporters would revolt otherwise. But McCarthy asked, “Tell me what happens when we get into a shutdown? I want to know what our next move is.”

It seems to me that it would be to the Republicans’ own advantage, long term, to put an end to this mess and open the government now, before we get any closer to the 2020 election. It would stop the erosion of their poll numbers and send a signal to Trump that he can’t get away with the Crazy Lone Ranger act. And for their own sakes they had better do it before the real fireworks start.

But where is Mitch McConnell? Has he lost his nerve? Is he holed up in some Kentucky road house disguised with a fake mustache and crying into his bourbon? Maybe he thinks public sentiment will turn on the Dems eventually, but so far that’s not happening.

Or, maybe he’s decided to let Trump hang himself. Also a possibility.

Cries for the Dems to negotiate kind of ignore the fact that Trump isn’t offering them anything. For example,

Exasperated, a small group of Republican lawmakers tried to determine a way out last week. Led by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), they met Wednesday in Graham’s office with White House legislative affairs director Shahira Knight and senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss a broader immigration deal that could include protections for undocumented children in exchange for $5.7 billion in wall funding. …

… But the president said no. Pence then told Graham and Alexander that Trump appreciated their proposal but was not interested in re-opening the government until the Democrats were willing to negotiate on the wall.

What “negotiation”? Trump hasn’t put anything on the table. Offering Dems a broader immigration deal in exchange for wall funding would be a negotiation. Trump isn’t negotiating.

Anyhoo — today news media are making a big deal of the fact that Trump confiscated the interpreter’s notes after a meeting with Putin in Hamburg, in 2017:

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

I was thinking we already had heard this, but I was confusing the 2017 Hamburg meeting with the 2018 Helinski meeting. But in the process of trying to straighten out what I thought I remembered, I came across a Business Insider story from July 2018 – National security experts warn Trump is behaving more and more like a ‘controlled spy.’ Going back to the last post, in which the Smart People class seem to be just now catching on, I suggest we need better Smart People. The ones we have are two damn slow.

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