June 11 – 17, 2017

 


Articles & Editorials:


Main Stories


Jeff Sessions


Sessions Heatedly Denies Improper Russia Contacts
(Washington Post – 6/13/17)

Sessions Can’t Invoke Executive Privilege, But He’s Using it a Lot
(Los Angeles Times – 6/13/17)

Jeff Sessions’ Explanation for Firing Comey Just Doesn’t Make Sense
(CNN – 6/14/17)

The Memo: Five Takeaways from Jeff Sessions’s Testimony
(The Hill – 6/14/17)

 Full Transcript of Jeff Sessions Testimony
(Politico – 6/13/17)

25 Times Jeff Sessions Had a Convenient Memory Lapse While Testifying
(Rolling Stone – 6/13/17)

GOP senator blocking Trump nominee until he gets answers from DOJ
(The Hill – 6/15/17)


Russian Hacking Update


Russian Cyber Hacks on U.S. Electoral System Far Wider Than Previously Known
(Business Insider – 6/13/17)

Russia Could Hack 2020 Election Too, Report Says: 39 States Hit in 2016
(Newsweek – 6/13/17)

The Hard Truth Keeps Trickling Out, Little by Little
(Esquire – 6/13/17)


Hate Crimes


Lawmaker Steve Scalise Injured in GOP Baseball Shooting. Suspect James T. Hodgkinson Dies After Shootout
(Washington Post – 6/14/17)

Suspect Dies After Shooting At GOP Baseball Practice In Virginia
(National Public Radio – 6/14/17)

Hodgkinson’s Facebook Page Gets Quick Reaction
(Belleville News-Democrat – 6/14/17)


Other Stories That You Should Know About:


Obstruction of Justice


Donald Trump Under Investigation for Potential Obstruction of Justice
(The Guardian – 6/14/17)

Trump Conflates ‘Phony Collusion’ And Possible Obstruction Of Justice Investigation
(National Public Radio – 6/14/17)

President Trump Blasts Report on Possible Obstruction of Justice Probe
(Fortune – 6/14/17)

Law Professor Just Laid Out What The Obstruction Of Justice Investigation Means For Trump
(Washington Journal – 6/15/17)


National Security


Suspected N.Korea Drone Photographed US Missile Defense Site
(ABC News – 6/13/17)

Qatar Buys U.S. F-15s Days After Trump Says Country Funds Terror
(NBC News – 6/15/17)

Senate Overwhelmingly Passes New Russia and Iran Sanctions
(Washington Post – 6/15/17)

White House Wants More Flexible Russia Sanctions Deal From Congress
(New York Magazine – 6/17/17)


Robert Mueller


Republicans to Trump: Hands off Mueller
(Politico – 6/12/17)

Robert Mueller Chooses his Investigatory Dream Team
(Wired – 6/14/17)

Mueller Expands Special Counsel Office, Hires 13 Lawyers
(CNN – 6/16/17)


Media


The Bubble: How conservative and liberal media reacted to Sessions’ testimony
(USA Today – 6/15/17)

Don’t Believe Anonymously Sourced Reports, Justice Official Says
(New York Times – 6/16/17)


Cuba


Trump rolls back some, not all, changes in US-Cuba relations
(Boston Herald – 6/17/17)

Cuba to Trump: US in no ‘condition to lecture us’ on human rights
(CNN – 6/17/17)


Making Trump’s Bank Account Great Again


Trump Reports Hundreds of Millions in Financial Liabilities
(NBC News – 6/16/17)

Donald Trump Reports He’s Getting Rich as President
(The Atlantic – 6/16/17)


Cronyism


Trump Family Wedding Planner to Head New York’s Federal Housing Office
(New York Times – 6/16/17)


 Keeping Track of the Basics:


Editorials


Berkeley author George Lakoff says, ‘Don’t underestimate Trump’
(Berkeleyside – 5/7/17)

Sessions: I can’t discuss conversations with the president. 9 legal experts: Yes, you can.
(Vox – 6/14/17)

Where Trump Learned to Love Ritualized Flattery
(The New Yorker – 6/13/17)


Alternative Facts from an Alternative Universe

Self-selecting our news sources, a reluctance to hear opposing ideas, and the choice by many of us to surround ourselves only with like-minded individuals has resulted in many Americans becoming oblivious to the beliefs of those with whom they disagree. This bubble helped create the world of “alternative facts” in which Donald Trump could become President.

To counter this, each week I will present a little of what Trump’s supporters are thinking. Their reality may be very different from yours. Please listen/read to the end, and consider what respectful questions you could ask to better understand and have a conversation, rather than seeking to prove them wrong as quickly as possible and shut them down. We can’t change minds if we can’t talk to each other.


Trump’s Base in Blue Earth County Stands by Him After Rough Start
(Star Tribune – 6/1817)


Cartoons, Images & Videos


1992 interview has interesting similarities to Comey’s testimony about a loyalty pledge:

Australian Prime Minister mocks Trump:

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Events & Actions


Resources & Organizations


June 4 – 10, 2017

 


Articles & Editorials:


Main Stories


Robert Mueller


Special Counsel Mueller Puts an Expert in the Mafia and Fraud at the Heart of His Investigation
(Daily KOS – 6/6/17)

‘Brilliant’ Criminal Law Expert Joins Mueller’s Team on Russia Probe
(Chicago Tribune – 6/9/17)


Leaks


Federal Government Contractor in Georgia Charged With Removing and Mailing Classified Materials to a News Outlet
(Department of Justice – 6/5/17)

NSA leak suspect Reality Winner allegedly bragged in jail calls she would ‘play that card’ of being ‘pretty, white and cute’
(Business Insider – 6/9/17)


Former FBI Director James Comey


Comey Told Sessions: Don’t Leave Me Alone With Trump
(New York Times – 6/6/17)

Comey Accuses White House Of ‘Lies, Plain And Simple’ About His Firing
(National Public Radio – 6/8/17)

“I can definitively say the President is not a liar.”

– White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders
   June 8 Press Conference (The Hill – 6/8/17)

Full Transcript and Video: James Comey’s Testimony on Capitol Hill
(New York Times – 6/8/17)

7 Takeaways from Comey’s Extraordinary Testimony About What Trump Told Him to Do
(Washington Post – 6/8/17)

Ryan Defends Trump: President is New at This
(CNN – 6/8/17)

The Five Lines of Defense Against Comey — and Why They Failed
(The Atlantic – 6/8/17)

And while everyone was paying attention to the Comey hearing, remember what resulted from bank deregulation by the end of the George W. Bush years?

House Passes Sweeping Legislation to Roll Back Banking Rules
(Washington Post – 6/9/17)


Counter–Punching


 Trump Sees Comey’s Testimony as ‘Complete Vindication’ — and His Fans Agree
(Washington Post – 6/10/17)

President Trump’s Lawyer’s Statement on Comey Hearing
(CNN – 6/8/17)

Calling Comey a Liar, Trump Says He Will Testify Under Oath
(New York Times – 6/9/17)

See May 18 blog entry:
“Why Donald Trump Will Be Impeached and May Go To Prison”

Trump: I’m Willing to Testify Under Oath About Comey Claims
(CNN – 6/9/17)


Other Stories That You Should Know About:


Testimony Before Congress by Daniel Coats (Director of National Intelligence) and Mike Rogers (NSA Director)


Top Intelligence Official Told Associates Trump Asked Him if He Could Intervene with Comey on FBI Russia Probe
(Washington Post – 6/6/17)

Coats and Rogers Refuse to Say if Trump Asked Them to Sway Russia Probe
(Politico – 6/7/17)

Transcript of Testimony by Coats and Rogers
(CNN – 6/7/17)


Testimony from Attorney General Jeff Sessions Coming Up


Sessions Says he Plans to Testify Before Senate Intelligence Panel
(CNN – 6/10/17)


Trump Supporters


It’s Time to Bust the Myth: Most Trump Voters Were not Working Class
(Washington Post – 6/5/17)


Business Dealings


How Donald Trump Shifted Kids-Cancer Charity Money Into His Business
(Forbes – 6/6/17)

Eric Trump’s Cancer Charity Event was Billed by Trump for Use of Golf Course
(CBS News – 6/7/17)

Democrats to Sue Trump Over Conflicts of Interest
(Politico – 6/7/17)


International Relations


Foreign Relations Chairman Stunned by Trump’s Qatar Tweets
(The Hill – 6/6/17)

Russian fighter Intercepts U.S. Bomber Over Baltic Sea
(Reuters – 6/6/17)

Nikki Haley Warns US May Pull Out of UN Human Rights Council Over ‘Anti-Israel Bias’
(The Independent UK – 6/6/17)

North Korea Slams Trump’s Decision to Pull out of Paris Accord as ‘the Height of Egotism’
(Washington Post – 6/7/17)

North Korea’s Antiship Missile Test Aims to Show It Can Repel Assault
(New York Times – 6/8/17)


Impeachment


Former US Intelligence Chief: Watergate Pales in Comparison to Russia Probe
(CNN – 6/7/17)


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ACT for America Stages Marches Against ‘Sharia Law’ Nationwide, Arrests Made
(NBC News – 6/10/17)


 Keeping Track of the Basics:


Editorials


 Donald Trump is a Profoundly Incompetent President
(Chicago Tribune – 6/7/17)

Reality Winner isn’t a Whistleblower — or a Victim of Trump’s War on Leaks
(Washington Post – 6/8/17)

Russia’s Attempt to Hack US Election Officials, Explained
(Vox – 6/6/17)

Trump has Mastered the Art of Seeming Like He’s Telling the Truth
(Washington Post – 6/9/17)


 

Cartoons, Images & Videos


Comedian John Mulvaney on Stephen Colbert’s show:


This Week’s Blog Entry:

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What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump


Events & Actions


Resources & Organizations


 

What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump

What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump

What You Don’t Need to Know: Understanding Intelligence and Law Enforcement Regarding Trump


We are likely to hear plenty of testimony before Congress from law enforcement and intelligence officials in the coming months. People who see Donald Trump as corrupt or worse may find themselves frustrated by what appears to be an attempt by these officials to hide key information from Congress and from the public. Some Americans may even begin developing conspiracy theories about these officials’ silence or apparent evasiveness under oath.

It is possible that some individuals in the FBI, Secret Service, NSA, CIA, etc. may be inappropriately trying to conceal incriminating information about the President. However, when law enforcement or intelligence people conceal such information from Congress in open testimony, it is almost certainly not an attempt to protect the President. Rather, it is an attempt to protect the investigations into his campaign and administration from becoming compromised, because they want to ensure that any wrongdoing can be prosecuted with the best evidence possible when and if arrests are made.

Law enforcement and intelligence have obligations that at times can be hard to balance. They are supposed to serve the American public, which in the minds of many means that the public has a right to know everything that is going on in an investigation, what evidence has been compiled so far, how it was discovered, and all other important information. Americans want to quickly and definitively know, in the words of Richard Nixon, “if their President is a crook,” and they certainly don’t want a crook to stay in office if law enforcement have strong reason to believe that the person is corrupt in some way.

But law enforcement and intelligence personnel are also supposed to serve the American public by doing their job, by “getting the bad guys,” by performing as thorough an investigation as they can, by ensuring that their evidence is as airtight as it can be, by preventing crimes, sabotage, and foreign intelligence operations from being successful in the future. That means that not everything that they know can or should always be disclosed to the public all the time.

The audience for public statements from law enforcement and intelligence is not only the American public. Criminals being investigated are paying attention as well. People considering committing future crimes are paying attention. In the Russia investigation, the Russians are paying attention. Other hostile countries are paying attention. It is important not to give them useful information.

For this reason, there are things that law enforcement officials may be reluctant to disclose publicly, particularly in the middle of an active investigation, including:

  • Who is under surveillance
  • What facts, testimonies and evidence have been gathered so far
  • Who are the witnesses, informants or undercover agents
  • What don’t law enforcement currently know
  • What evidence don’t they have
  • How is information being collected/what techniques are being used
  • What is their strategy for getting the needed evidence or making an arrest
  • Any sensitive/classified/secret information
  • Conclusions that law enforcement have reached so far

Prematurely disclosing such information can damage an active investigation in many possible ways. It can enable a criminal to better know how to cover their tracks, who to stop trusting, who to kill to prevent testimony in court, what not to lie about under oath, or any number of other issues that can complicate or even completely ruin an investigation. That information is appropriate to reveal in court after the arrests, and much may be appropriate to reveal publicly as well at that time, but not during the investigation.

Similarly, there are things that intelligence officials may be reluctant to disclose publicly, especially in the middle of their operations or investigations, including:

  • Who or what their sources of information are (or things that could enable someone to figure that out)
  • What they know about other foreign powers (or how they know it)
  • What they don’t know about other foreign powers (or why they don’t know it)
  • What tactics and techniques they use
  • Where they are focusing their attention

Gathering intelligence, setting up an effective surveillance operation, and gaining access to key information is very difficult. It can require extensive resources, money, talent, and in some cases years of cultivating trustworthy relationships. Once that information is revealed publicly (and therefore to the people about whom it has been gathered), it becomes far less valuable, or sometimes completely useless. For that reason, intelligence officials are very careful about what they say about their work.

Publicly disclosing information about an intelligence operation or its results – or revealing that information to the wrong person – can have severe consequences beyond merely rendering years of hard work useless. Those consequences include:

  • Agents or informants being killed
  • Hostile countries learning of previously unknown vulnerabilities of the US, American allies, or themselves
  • Hostile countries being able to more effectively conduct intelligence or military operations to harm the US or its allies
  • Military operations of the US or Americas allies becoming compromised, resulting in American troops or those of our allies being needlessly killed
  • Hostile countries taking military actions elsewhere in the world which they otherwise might not have
  • Terrorists knowing how to better avoid detection of their plans and activities

That is why Israel was so outraged – and other nations so deeply concerned – when President Trump boastfully blabbed classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office: he had recklessy damaged an intelligence operation of an important ally, rendered the information less useful, made that ally’s future intelligence operations more difficult, and potentially put the lives of that ally’s informants or spies at risk – and for what?

Additionally, law enforcement see their own investigations in ways that may not always make immediate sense, especially during testimony or public comments.

Law enforcement treat investigations that are in progress differently from those that have been completed. An ongoing investigation requires some degree of secrecy, for reasons described above. Law enforcement consider an investigation complete when they have gathered what they believe to be all of the evidence, spoken to what they believe to be all of the relevant people involved, and come to a conclusion that the evidence collected is sufficient (or not) for a court of law to potentially determine the guilt or innocence of one or more persons. At that point, if that evidence points sufficiently to guilt, arrests are made, after which law enforcement officials feel more free to publicly discuss some of the details of the case.

An example of this would be former FBI Director James Comey’s controversial handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. The FBI had been investigating Hillary Clinton and those around her for evidence of conscious wrongdoing in their use of a private e-mail server (potentially more open to being hacked) to transmit classified government information.

The FBI considered that investigation to have been completed in July of 2016: they believed that they had reviewed all of the evidence, and because Clinton was a candidate for President, they took the step of publicly announcing that their investigation was complete. It should be noted that the closing of that investigation did not mean that Hillary had done nothing wrong, but merely that the FBI did not have sufficient evidence to prove in a court of law that she had knowingly and intentionally done something illegal.

In October of 2016, in a separate investigation into illegal online sexual activity by former Senator Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a large number of Clinton-related e-mails from Weiner’s wife, Clinton aid Huma Abedin, were discovered on Weiner’s computer. The FBI could not be instantly certain that all of these e-mails had already been reviewed during the Clinton e-mail investigation. In other words, it was possible that the FBI had been mistaken and premature in concluding in July that they had reviewed all of the evidence.

Because a public announcement had already been made that the Clinton e-mail investigation had been closed, because it now needed to be reopened, and because it was important for the public to know that the investigation’s status had changed, James Comey took the unusual – and to many, outrageous – step of notifying Congress shortly before the election that the FBI was reopening their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail activity. Through the allocation of extra staff, time and resources, the FBI was able to quickly process the potentially new e-mails and announce before the election that they were once again closing that investigation.

It is almost certain that Comey’s decision impacted the results of the election in favor of Donald Trump, and one can question Comey’s judgment in how he handled things, but looking at it from his perspective, the outcome of the Clinton investigation had become once again not known. Had Hillary become President, and then the e-mails on Weiner’s computer had revealed that she was guilty of provably, knowingly, and intentionally committing a crime, Americans would have been demanding why Comey had concealed from them the fact that the investigation had been reopened. The outrage currently felt by many Democrats about Comey’s last-minute Hillary revelation would have been felt even more strongly by Trump supporters, who would likely have made accusations and developed conspiracy theories about how the FBI had covered for Hillary Clinton to get a Washington insider unjustly elected to protect the status quo. In other words, it was a no-win for Comey, and he made the best decision that he could in a situation where there were no good decisions.

One could ask why Comey did not give what would seem to many people to be equal treatment to the Trump investigation, which was by then underway. Why did he choose not to notify Congress, at the same time as his announcement of reopening the Hillary investigation, that the Trump campaign was also under investigation for activity related to Russia? This again was a judgment call in a situation where there were no good decisions.

At the time, the Trump Campaign did not know that the FBI was actively investigating them. Notifying Congress of that fact while the investigation was ongoing – and in truth just starting – would have damaged the investigation, potentially causing people in the Trump Campaign or the Russians to be more cautious, cover their tracks more thoroughly, stop talking to certain people, etc., all of which would have made gathering sufficient evidence for an eventual prosecution much more difficult or even impossible. The efforts by Russia were huge and sophisticated: it was absolutely in America’s best interest to conduct a thorough and effective investigation of it to prevent such activity in the future. That meant that the FBI did not want to take action that could jeopardize the investigation.

On the other hand, not telling Congress about the Trump-Russia investigation could result in America having a President whose campaign – or who himself – was influenced by or compromised by a hostile foreign power. Comey apparently believed that this was at least something that could be managed through continued monitoring of the situation by the FBI and other law enforcement. This does not mean that he made the right decision, or that he did not. It merely explains the difficult decision that he made.

Finally, when law enforcement and intelligence officials are questioned publicly before Congress, they may say things like “I don’t think that’s appropriate to discuss here” or “I can’t talk about that in open session,” they are not being underhanded. We are used to assuming a greater likelihood of guilt or shiftiness when people “plea the Fifth” under oath, but that is not what is happening here.

Some Congressional hearings are held in “open session,” meaning that the public can potentially watch, listen to, or be made aware of what is said there. Other Congressional hearings are held in “closed session.” Statements and information revealed in closed hearings may not be disclosed publicly, and may only be attended by Senators or Representatives who have been properly “cleared” (formally assessed to be capable of keeping their mouths shut).

The reason for a closed hearing is usually so that Congress (in the form of the handful of “cleared” legislators) can be notified of information that cannot be revealed publicly. In the various Trump-, Russia-, and election-related investigations, referring some subjects to a closed session is likely because disclosing such information in a public setting could jeopardize an investigation or an intelligence operation in some way.

We live in a time when trust in government is low and our suspicions high. It is natural for us to question when someone testifying before Congress appears to be concealing the truth. Understanding the perspectives and priorities of law enforcement and intelligence officials can help us better assess what we are seeing and hearing – and not seeing and hearing – from them.

– rob rünt

May 28 – June 3, 2017

 


Articles & Editorials:


Main Stories


Russia


Trump Administration Moves to Return Russian Compounds in Maryland and New York
(Washington Post – 5/31/17)

Congress Investigating Another Possible Sessions-Kislyak Meeting
(CNN – 5/31/17)

Putin Ridicules Claims of Meddling in US Vote
(Washington Post – 6/2/17)

Mueller’s Investigation Goes Wide:
The Special Counsel Takes Over a Criminal Probe into Paul Manafort’s Ukrainian Business Dealings, Broadening His Original Scope
(The Atlantic – 6/2/17)

Explanations for Kushner’s Meeting with Head of Kremlin-Linked Bank Don’t Match Up
(Washington Post – 6/1/17)

Nigel Farage is ‘Person of Interest’ in FBI Investigation into Trump and Russia
(The Guardian UK – 6/2/17)


Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord


The Latest: Scientist Warns US Climate Move Short-Sighted
(Washington Post – 6/1/17)

Massive Crack in Antarctica Ice Shelf Grows 11 Miles in Only 6 Days
(USA Today – 6/1/17)

Paris Agreement on Climate Change: US Withdraws as Trump Calls it ‘Unfair’
(Fox News – 6/1/17)

Trump’s Speech on Paris Climate Agreement Withdrawal, Annotated
(National Public Radio – 6/1/17)

Fact-Checking Donald Trump’s Statement Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement
(Politifact – 6/1/17)

World Leaders Condemn Trump’s Decision to Quit Paris Climate Deal
(CNN – 6/3/17)

The World’s Front Pages Mourn Trump’s Paris Decision
(New York Magazine – 6/2/17)

Winners and Losers in Trump’s Paris Decision
(The Hill – 6/2/17)

Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord
(New York Times – 6/1/17)


Other Stories That You Should Know About:


Ethics


White House Details Ethics Waivers for Ex-Lobbyists and Corporate Lawyers
(New York Times – 5/31/17)


National Security


An Unexpected Problem: Trump Handing Out his Cellphone Number
(MSNBC – 5/31/17)

Security Experts to Donald Trump: Stop Handing Out Your Cellphone Number
(Time Magazine – 6/1/17)


Covfefe


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Less Tweeting, Lawyers Beg. ‘Covfefe,’ the President Says.
(New York Times – 5/31/17)


Kathy Griffin


It Was Just Revealed How 11-Year-Old Barron Trump First Learned of Kathy Griffin’s Photo — Horrific
(Independent Journal Review – 6/1/17)

Claiming ‘Bullying’ by Trump Over Gruesome Joke, Griffin Says She’s Standing up for Free Speech
(Yahoo News – 6/2/17)

‘He Broke Me’: A Defiant, Tearful Kathy Griffin Slams Attacks by Trump and His Family
(Washington Post – 6/2/17)


Hate Crimes


Portland Train Suspect: ‘I Hope Everyone I Stabbed Died’
(CNN – 5/31/17)


Random Tdibits


Watch A Mentally Not There Trump Wander Off From Meeting And Be Brought Back By Staff
(Politics USA – 5/26/17)

This White House Statement on Trump’s ‘Positive Energy’ Reads Like a Parody
(Washington Post – 5/30/17)


 Keeping Track of the Basics:

Trump’s Cabinet Picks and Their Status in the Approval Process
(Full Article – The Atlantic)

Entire Trump Administration: Who’s Who
(Full Info – Real Clear Politics)

Ongoing Tracking of Trump-Russia Connections
(Compiled and updated by the office of US Representative Eric Swalwell, House Intelligence Committee)

Ongoing Tracking of Trump-Russia Connections
(Washington Post)

How Much Have Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Stays Cost Us So Far?
(Is Trump at Mar-a-Lago?)


Editorials


Al Franken: Time for Hillary Clinton, Democrats to ‘Move on’
(Washington Post – 6/2/17)

Europe’s Leaders Confront the Worst Case Scenario: Trump
(Talking Points Memo – 5/29/17)

Trump’s Incompetence Won’t Save Our Democracy
(New York Times – 6/2/17)

How G.O.P. Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science
(New York Times – 6/3/17)

White Male Terrorists Are an Issue We Should Discuss
(Teen Vogue – 5/9/17)


Cartoons, Images & Videos


Video by Comedy Central – “Donny Goes to School:”

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This Week’s Blog Entries:

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The Wall Has Been Built


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Are You “Over-Sharing?” Leaking in the Age of Trump

 


Events & Actions


Resources & Organizations


 

Are You “Over-Sharing?” Leaking in the Age of Trump

Are You “Over-Sharing?” Leaking in the Age of Trump

Are You “Over-Sharing?”
Leaking in the Age of Trump


There are some things that cannot be undone. You cannot un-have a bad experience. You can’t un-lose your virginity. And you cannot un-say something that you have already said. That last one is particularly important for journalists and people in government right now. Our right to freedom of speech needs to be brought back into balance with the responsibilities that come with it.

We live in extraordinary times. Each day, bright, flashing signs indicate that our President may be incompetent, corrupt, compromised by a foreign power, mentally unstable, and/or have authoritarian tendencies. World leaders are responding to this situation in various ways, most of them not positive for the United States. Fake news is now a daily part of our information landscape. Our world feels increasingly chaotic.

As our alarm bells go off, it is reasonable to want to alert others to the dangers that we see. But decades of norms and protocols have developed for how certain information should be handled. Now more than ever, it is important to remind ourselves of, and adhere to, those protocols. This is especially true for the press and those in government, because their words can have the largest impacts.


Government Employees

For many in government, there are already very clear ground rules in place for the disclosure of information. They involve labels like “Confidential,” “Classified,” “Secret,” and “Top Secret.” Those labels have been attached to the information for a reason.

Government employees considering sharing such information online or with the press should think twice. The potential consequences are not just the legal problems related to getting caught. There are potential unintended consequences of that information going beyond its specified reach, including one or more person’s lives being put in danger, a vital relationship with an international ally being damaged, an enemy nation gaining advantage against the United States, terrorists accessing useful information, or other severe and unforeseen problems.

Even information that is not classified and seems very important for the public to know may be more appropriately communicated through different channels. Given the craziness of our current government situation, many public employees may feel that they are being patriotic and serving an essential role in our democracy when they contact the press or Wikileaks with a piece of incriminating evidence about the President or someone in his Administration.

In reality, however, that information, while certainly interesting and essential, may compromise important investigations. when shared publicly For example, if the President, his Administration, or those who were involved in his campaign are guilty or corruption or treason, it may tip them off as to what is currently known about their activities. This can help them have a better sense of what not to lie about when questioned by the FBI or Congress. Such public disclosures therefore do not serve the investigation or the public, even though the information may seem like it is important for everyone to know right away.

A more appropriate way to handle incriminating information related to Donald Trump, his campaign, or his Administration is to contact the team of Independent Prosecutor Robert Mueller, make a detailed record of what the information was, when you disclosed it and to whom, and try to keep some piece of proof of the information so that if they do not take proper action, you can move the information credibly through other channels later.


Law Enforcement

Law enforcement can be thankless work. When months of hard work has resulted in the apprehension of a suspect, it may be gratifying to tell the press the specifics of the incredible police work that was involved. And the work truly is impressive, it is interesting, and we the public are grateful for it. But the public does not need to know about it. Leave us with some mystery, let your work have a bit of a mystique: tell the press that the arrest was the result of “fantastic police work,” “diligent officers,” and “lots of long hours,” and leave it at that: we don’t need any more detail.

Disclosing the sources and methods provides valuable information for other criminals and terrorists to adjust their tactics to be more effective and avoid being caught. There is little if any benefit to the public knowing exactly what evidence or techniques resulted in the capture of the serial killer, what technology was used to uncover the pedophile ring, or what clues led to the arrest of the terrorists.

The only time that we need to know details about your sources, methods, and creative investigative insights is if you used potentially illegal or unconstitutional tactics. The public needs to know this in order to collectively decide if laws need be expanded to aid law enforcement, or if government power is creeping in ways that need to be put in check.


Journalists

The field of journalism faces many pressures today. The 24-hour news cycle, the perceived need to be first with the story, the constant flow of information to the public from a range of sources, the demands of corporate media owners, and the periodic major catastrophes where news anchors are placed in the bizarre position of having to discuss the same event for hours on end while saying enough new things to keep people’s attention – all force journalists at times to betray their better instincts.

When people in law enforcement, the intelligence community, other government employees and White House staff become so concerned about something that they feel the need to contact the press, the news media are faced with the additional burden of being the grown-up in the room, exercising the essential judiciousness that their sources are not using regarding what information should or should not actually be passed on to the public. The press can turn an unfortunate indiscretion into a global incident.

An example is the recent terrorist attack on Manchester, England during the Ariana Grande concert. US government sources leaked to the news media photos that had been part of the investigation, as well as the name of the suspect, which British authorities had not yet wanted to disclose. Some US news outlets then included that information in their stories about the event. That decision in this situation caused the British government to temporarily suspend sharing of critical intelligence with the US government related to terrorism. Repeats of such blunders by other US media in future could result in a slow or even a complete stoppage of the vital flow of intelligence to our government.

Journalists should apply similar guidelines to those recommended for law enforcement and government employees. US news media are rightfully protective of their own sources, tot the point where “anonymous sources” have become commonplace in stories about matters of the highest magnitude. But at times, the press seem to have little discretion when it comes to disclosing the methods used by law enforcement, or revealing information that could compromise investigations such as the ones into the Trump campaign.


The President

What can be said here, Mr. President?

 

Despite your frequent campaign scoldings of Hillary Clinton for e-mailing classified information using a private server, you clearly seem absolutely clueless as to how to handle sensitive information. In the span of two weeks, you shared highly classified information with the Russians – apparently in the course of some off-the-cuff boasting – and then told the not-particularly-stable President of the Philippines that we were stationing two nuclear submarines off the coast of North Korea. You enraged a Middle East ally, Israel, and our other international allies are losing their patience  as well– and losing their desire to share vital intelligence with us.

During the campaign, World War II/Korean War veteran and former Virginia Republican Senator John Warner repeated the old military maxim “Loose lips sink ships,” adding for emphasis “got that, Trump?” Mr. President, either you must want to put the idea to the test, or you did NOT get it.

 

The items below might seem obvious, but the past couple weeks have shown that they must be said. The following are the things that the President of the United States, with extremely rare exceptions, should not say publicly or even to foreign leaders who are not our closest allies and who do not have a need to know:

  • Information from your briefings – particularly intelligence briefings
  • Information about impending military operations, including troop numbers, troop locations, timing, weapons to be employed, locations of the weapons, or possible ways that the enemy can make the weapons less effective
  • Weapons technology
  • The nuclear codes
  • The identity of the person carrying the “nuclear football”
  • Names or other identifying information or locations of US spies, intelligence personnel, Navy SEALs, Special Forces Officers, or similar people in our allies’ forces
  • Business secrets
  • Military or other key vulnerabilities of the United States or our allies
  • Methods used by the United States or our allies for tracking or apprehending terrorists
  • Gossip or catty comments about America’s international allies
  • Any information that has not been confirmed by a credible source
  • Information that others could potentially use to blackmail you, your staff, or those who held high positions in your campaign (you should instead report this information immediately to Independent Prosecutor Robert Mueller)

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and as absurd as it is, it still assumes a minor degree of common sense. Mr. President, you may yet demonstrate your tremendous skill at finding something outrageously inappropriate to do that nobody would have considered a possibility until you did it. Oh hey, here’s one now: apparently it’s been discovered that you have been encouraging other world leaders to contact you on your cell phone rather than on a secure government line. Nice work.

– rob rünt

The Wall Has Been Built

The Wall Has Been Built

The Wall Has Been Built


This week, Donald Trump, with all the hype and fanfare of the Bachelorette announcing her decision, withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. This agreement had taken years and an incredible degree of international cooperation to develop: every country in the world signed on, with the exception of two – Nicaragua and Syria. We now join those two nations as the world’s outliers.

The substance of Trump’s withdrawal is far less important than the symbolism. The other 194 countries will likely continue on with their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, as China, India, Germany, France, Italy and others vowed to do shortly after Trump’s speech. And even within the US, many major cities – including Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Atlanta – immediately proclaimed that they would proceed as if the US were still part of the Paris Accord.

But the symbolism to the rest of the world of Trump’s announcement was deeply offensive: the wealthiest country in the world, one of the world’s top carbon emitters, the country that encouraged poor countries to make sacrifices and change their polluting ways to get on board with the Paris Accord, has now left the agreement, whining that it is too hard and not fair.

One particular sentence of Trump’s speech announcing America’s departure was particularly telling in its self-contradiction:

 

“Thus as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

– President Donald Trump

 

As Trump states, the agreement is, in fact, “non-binding.” Every participating nation voluntarily determines its own efforts and goals to collectively curb climate change. There is no punishment for failing to do any of it. Each nation can choose to revisit and modify their own goals and efforts every five years. By definition, there is nothing “draconian” about the agreement. It is about as coddling and permissive an arrangement as one could hope to find – for all nations involved, including the United States.

Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement will do little to help the unemployed American coal miners on whose shoulders he placed the justification for his decision. Coal is being increasingly replaced by natural gas and more environmentally friendly energy options, not because of the “draconian” Paris agreement, but because it makes financial sense. The President’s choice of loyalty to coal instead of investing in job training that could bring those coal miners into the new green economy – a future economy that even China is now pursuing with ever-increasing vigor – is foolish at best.

While the positive impact of Trump’s decision for American workers is doubtful, the impact for America in the international community is profound – and not good.

During his campaign and since taking office, Mr. Trump has been steadily eroding our relations with other countries. His speeches and his proposed wall on the Mexican border rightfully aroused the ire of our southern neighbors. His Muslim ban offended people not only in Arab nations, but people worldwide who saw the executive order for its bigotry, ignorance and cruelty. His first interaction with the Australian Prime Minister – a long-time American ally – was, in Trump’s own words, “testy.” His aggressive campaign rhetoric toward China and subsequent flip-flop has made him a source of ridicule in that country, while his installation of an anti-missile system in South Korea is seen by China as a provocation. His campaign suggestion that NATO was obsolete, and his subsequent assertion that it is relevant after all but its members are deadbeats, offended many European countries. His classified-information-sprinkled boasts to the Russians in the Oval Office outraged Israel and raised questions among America’s other traditional allies about the wisdom of continuing to share valuable intelligence with the United States, as did his informing the Philippine dictator that we had two nuclear submarines off the coast of North Korea. His erratic and factually challenged 6am tweets – a source of bewildered amusement for many Americans – have been viewed by other world leaders through a more serious framework.

All of these have been worrisome signs to the rest of the world about the trustworthiness, reliability and competence of the current occupant of the Oval Office. Yet, having looked for decades to the United States as the world’s leader and as a source of global stability, other nations were cautiously willing to hold out a glimmer of hope, taking a wary “wait and see” approach.

Mr. Trump’s Paris Accord withdrawal put an end to that.

It was the final nail in the coffin for America’s reputation as a solid partner and, more critically, for America’s position as the world’s leader. The announcement reverberated worldwide in issues far beyond climate change: the President told the world in that one speech that America will be basing its decisions on something other than reality, and that international agreements with the US are as meaningful, permanent and trustworthy as a drunken one night stand. The magnitude of this message to the world cannot be overstated.

Thursday, June 1, 2017 will be a day that all Americans should remember. It was the day when the rest of the world finally decided to give up on the United States, to shrug and move on; the day that the US President’s unfathomable shunning of global cooperation and of facts and science was seen as the arrogant and inept relinquishing of America’s credibility, respectability, and worthiness of being called a leader; the day that the world’s center of gravity shifted and key US allies realized that global military and economic alliances would need to change; the day that a black hole was left in place of what had already for many years admittedly been a questionable beacon of moral authority.

Thursday, June 1, 2017.

The response of other countries to Mr. Trump’s decision was reasonable, pragmatic and appropriate, and was best summed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, after getting a preview of Trump’s climate change decision during his trip to Italy, stated that Germany and other European nations “really must take our fate into our own hands” and not rely on “others.” In other words, the US can no longer be relied upon as a steady ally, and, by extension, is becoming less relevant to Europe and the world.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “The Paris Agreement is a hard-won outcome condensing the broadest consensus of the international community and setting up the direction and goals for global cooperative efforts to cope with climate change.”

Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Environment issued a joint statement that “Brazil is seriously concerned with the negative impact of such decision on the multilateral dialogue and cooperation to respond to global changes.”

Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of the New York-based Eurasia Group, posited that “Trump is creating the biggest transatlantic rift since the Iraq War, perhaps even since WWII. This leaves the U.S. exposed. If the Iran nuclear accord flounders, for example, Europe may well not end up on Trump’s side of a dangerous crisis.”

Whether Trump’s decisions have been influenced by an agenda cultivated by Russia or merely by ignorance and hubris is, in the end, unimportant: the result is a weakening of western powers and a degree of global destabilization that the world has not had to seriously consider in decades.

Who will step in to fill this vacuum of leadership? And upon what values or traits will that new leadership be based?

Since World War II, America and the west have led globally; other countries’ acceptance of us in that role has been based largely upon a belief that the US generally comes closer to doing “the right thing” than other countries might, that together the western nations form a powerful alliance, and that Americans can sometimes be swayed with pleas to our humanity.

Those kinds of values are not what world dominance has been based on for most of history. For the most part, leadership before World War II was rooted in brutal military might and international aggressiveness. We have long taken for granted, for example, that countries don’t regularly invade each other anymore.

Many countries seem more than happy to step into the leadership void that Donald Trump has left in America’s wake. China, a nation with a massive and powerful military and a longstanding desired to invade Taiwan, appears to be watching with interest. Russia, of course, is gleeful that a destabilized west means the prospect of reuniting the former Soviet nations. Germany, France, and other European nations may be drawn into a closer alliance as a result of the crisis created by the Trump Presidency.

As long as the US remains in the hands of an unstable, unreliable, fickle, selfish, easily duped, game-playing, prima donna drama queen President like Trump, it is an almost certainty that other nations will be unwilling to entrust the United States once again to lead the world. But even after this ugly chapter in American history is (hopefully) put behind us, America will need to prove to the world that we are once again worthy of their trust and respect, that we do in fact represent stability and consistency, that we think of others as well as ourselves, and that we keep our commitments. There are no guarantees that the world will believe it.

The wall has been built.

– rob rünt