A message from the Alt State Department: yesterday’s press conference was not random chaos, but careful strategy.

[This is absolutely, 100% true. Yesterday’s performance wasn’t intended to demonstrate competence, but to rally the base for the battle ahead. This administration will not be easy to remove from power… Follow the Alt State Department.]

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Who described the administration best yesterday, Donald Trump or Bob Harward?


[For those not familiar with the references, here are the links; “shit sandwich,” “fine-tuned machine.”]

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Trump says he’ll ferret out those in the intelligence community responsible for the leaks tying his administration to Russia. In response, the intelligence community says that he’ll die behind bars.

At this point, I don’t know what there is left to say about Trump’s performance before the press this afternoon. Every synonym for “unhinged” that I can think of has already been claimed. And people have already written about all of the best parts, like the real-time fact-checking by NBC’s Peter Alexander when Trump claimed, falsely, that his was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan”, and the fact that Trump actually said “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water.” And, while it occurred to me that it would be interesting to rewatch the whole thing and count the number of times that he referred to “ratings,” I just can’t bring myself to do it. I barely got through it the first time, with the constant whining about the “mess” he’d inherited from Obama, and the convoluted attacks against the press. [I’m still trying to figure out what he meant when he said that, while the leaks were “absolutely real,” the news stories about them were “fake”.] One thing that I think is still worth talking about, though, is the mention by Trump that the leaks we’re seeing from the intelligence community, which he described as being criminal, were about to stop.

“I’ve called the Justice Department to look into the leaks,” Trump said. “Those are criminal leaks. They’re put out by people either in agencies… I think you’ll see it stoping because now we have our people in.”

[For someone who seemed to be quite fond of leaks in the past, when it was the likes of WikiLeaks and the Russians leaking embarrassing information about Secretary Clinton, he sure doesn’t seem to care for it much now that the leaks are exposing connections between his administration and the Russians. Also, did you happen to notice that, when explaining how the two things were different, he said these hacks against him are worse, as Clinton’s emails weren’t classified? How fucking hilarious is that? After spending a year attacking Clinton for her emailing of classified documents, he now says there wasn’t anything sensitive in them.]

So Trump, after months of attacking the intelligence community, has now essentially declared war on them, saying that he’ll ferret out the multiple leakers who have apparently decided to share what they know with the press in hopes of stopping the administration before they’re able to do irreparable damage to the nation. [For those of you who haven’t been following along, several members of the intelligence community, it would appear, went to the press and told them that Trump Nation Security Advisor Michael Flynn had engaged in illegal communications with Russia, once it became clear that Trump wouldn’t take action against Flynn on his own. And, since then, they’ve made it clear that they intend to continue releasing information about communications between Trump administration officials and the Kremlin during the election.]

According to John Schindler, a former NSA analyst who is now a national security columnist for the Observer, this aggressive turn against Trump by members of the intelligence community started in earnest this past week. In an article for the Observer titled “The Spy Revolt Against Trump Begins,” Schindler said that issue had become so bad that our intelligence community had not only started releasing information about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, but was starting to withhold intelligence from the White House, for fear that it might be handed over to the Kremlin.

Trump, when asked about ties between his administration and Putin’s government today, said only that it was “fake news” and a “ruse” perpetuated by the “dishonest media” and the Democrats… something that he’d been saying on Twitter since news became public that his National Security Advisor had lied to the FBI and others about the content of his communications with the Russians.

As for how Trump intends to ferret out the leakers, it would appear, according to the New York Times, that he may be getting ready to give Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, the task of identifying those in the intelligence community who may be disloyal to the administration. [Cerberus Capital Management owns something called the Freedom Group, which is the largest manufacturer of firearms and ammunition in the United States. He’s also connected in some way, we’re told, to both Save Bannon and Jared Kushner.] Schindler, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem too worried.

Not only does Schindler think that the intelligence community will come out on top when all is said and done, but, according to him, some within the intelligence community believe that, by the end of this, Trump will be behind bars.

I know Trump said earlier that his administration is running “like a fine-tuned machine,” but I think Schindler is likely right. If the administration is going up against the intelligence community, they’re going to lose… And not even the Russian mob can help them.

update: If you missed the press conference, here are some of the more bewildering highlights from Morning Joe.

update: Shortly after Trump’s press conference, it was reported that his pick to replace Mike Flynn, Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward, backed out. A friend of Harward’s said the retired Admiral saw the prospect of joining the Trump administration as a “shit sandwich.”… “Running like a fine-tuned machine” indeed.

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Influential conservative group with ties to the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos calls for the “gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice.”

I’ve yet to see a copy of the five-page document, but it’s being reported that the Council for National Policy, a group the New York Time calls “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country,” has started circulating a policy paper on education reform in the United States. And, given the fact that, until recently, White House strategist Steve Bannon was a member, and our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has close ties, people seem to be taking it seriously. [While it doesn’t appear that Betsy DeVos has been an official member of the group, she’s donated to the organization through her family foundation, and both her mother and father-in-law have served on council’s board. He mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, served on the council’s board of governors, and her father-in-law, Amway founder Richard DeVos Sr., served twice as president.] As for what’s in the policy document, here’s a clip from the Washington Post.

A policy manifesto from an influential conservative group with ties to the Trump administration, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, urges the dismantling of the Education Department and bringing God into American classrooms.

The five-page document produced by the Council for National Policy calls for a “restoration of education in America” that would minimize the federal role, promote religious schools and home schooling and enshrine “historic Judeo-Christian principles” as a basis for instruction…

A version of the council’s report, created by an 11-member education committee, was posted on the council’s website, but the document was no longer available online as of Wednesday afternoon, after The Washington Post reported on it. Three committee members confirmed its authenticity.

The document proposes demoting the department to a presidential “Advisory Council on Public Education Reform,” a sub-Cabinet-level agency that would serve as a consultant to states. New employees should subscribe to the educational worldview of the Trump administration, it says, “from assistant secretaries to the mailroom.”

It also says states should encourage K-12 public schools to post the Ten Commandments, teach Bible classes and recognize holidays such as Easter and Christmas; promote instruction “from a Judeo-Christian perspective”; and remove “secular-based sex education materials from school facilities.”

It calls for the termination of the Common Core academic standards and an end to the government collection of student data, which has generated concerns among activists on the right and the left.

The goal, it says, is a “gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice.”…

On it’s own, I might be inclined to disregard a report like this, as it seems so incredibly insane, and so very contrary to the underlying principles of our democracy, but we know from things said by Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick that they share the same opinion. [Remember that recording from the conference for wealthy Christians called “The Gathering” of Dick DeVos saying that their work to defund public education has been driven by a desire to “advance God’s kingdom” on earth?] So, I don’t think we can afford to take this lightly… not now that Betsy DeVos has essentially bought herself a seat on the President’s Cabinet as our Secretary of Education. No, all that stuff we’ve heard the Dick and Betsy DeVos say about how their goal is to remake society with the church at the center of American communities, and not secular schools, has to be taken very seriously. We need to take them at their word and respond accordingly.

I know I don’t need to tell you this, but we need to keep fighting this at every turn. This is deadly serious. If we’re to avoid a second coming of the dark ages, we’re going to have to fight with everything we’ve got from this moment forward. And we can never stop.

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What did Trump know, and when did he know it? We need to demand an investigation into Russia’s ties to Trump and his associates.

I’m hesitant to write anything more about the situation unfolding right now in D.C., as things are happening so quickly. I did, however, want to share this timeline with you from today’s Washington Post, as I think it might be something that we return to in the future as we try to determine what Trump knew, and when he knew it.

Dec. 29: Flynn, a former lieutenant general who had been selected as Trump’s national security adviser, speaks to Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Despite Flynn’s later denial and the White House’s later comments, he and Kislyak discuss sanctions and the possibility of relieving them once Trump is president — even as the Obama administration was announcing new sanctions for Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

Jan. 12: For the first time, Flynn’s talks with the Russian ambassador are reported by Post columnist David Ignatius. Few details are known, but Ignatius notes that if the two discussed the sanctions, this could violate an obscure law known as the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized citizens from dealing in disputes with foreign governments.

Jan. 13: In his first comments on the matter, White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Flynn told him that he had exchanged text messages with Kislyak before they spoke on Dec. 28. (The date was later corrected to Dec. 29.) But Spicer said it was only to discuss logistics for a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump after Trump was sworn in as president. “That was it, plain and simple,” Spicer said.

Jan. 14: Flynn assures Pence, who was then the vice president-elect, that the two of them didn’t discuss sanctions, according to Pence.

Jan. 15: Pence says on the Sunday shows that Flynn and Kislyak didn’t discuss sanctions. “I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats,” Pence says on “Fox News Sunday.”

Jan. 26: The Justice Department, then headed by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump would later dismiss for not defending his travel ban), informs White House counsel Don McGahn of Flynn’s misleading statements. It also warns that they were so egregious that he could open himself up to Russian blackmail, given Russia knew he had mischaracterized the call to his superiors, according to Washington Post reporting. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the specific date on Tuesday. “The first day that the Department of Justice … sought to notify White House counsel was January 26,” Spicer said. “The president was immediately informed of the situation.” Spicer said the White House didn’t believe Flynn had violated the law. None of this was disclosed publicly at the time.

Feb. 8: In an interview with The Post that would be published the following day, Flynn categorically denies having discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

Feb. 9: The Post reports that Flynn did, in fact, discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador. In response, a spokesperson amends Flynn’s denial, saying that he “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Feb. 10: Trump says in brief comments aboard Air Force One that he is unaware of The Post’s report but that he will “look into” it.

Around 5 p.m. Monday: Conway says the White House has “full confidence” in Flynn and seems to excuse him for having forgotten that he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

Also around 5 p.m. Monday: Spicer issues a contradictory statement. “The president is evaluating the situation,” he said. “He’s speaking to the vice president relative to the conversation the vice president had with Gen. Flynn, and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is: our national security.”

8 p.m. Monday: The Post reports that the Justice Department had told the White House last month “that Flynn had so mischaracterized his communications with the Russian diplomat that he might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.”

Shortly before 11 p.m. Monday: Flynn resigns.

Tuesday morning: Conway says Flynn resigned voluntarily.

Tuesday afternoon: Spicer, again contradicting Conway, says Trump requested the resignation: “Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue, and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That’s it. Pure and simple, it was a matter of trust.”

So, just a few unfocused thoughts on what we know thus far.

1. Flynn, who was, for the past several weeks, the head of the National Security Council, apparently did not know that our intelligence agencies were in the practice of monitoring the communications Russian diplomats. I know I mentioned it yesterday, but I still can’t believe that he, as a career military officer, and Trump’s chief intelligence advisor, he didn’t understand that his calls to a Russian diplomat might have been recorded. The ineptitude of this administration is absolutely dumbfounding, and it will ultimately be their undoing. I take some comfort in that.

2. According to the above timeline, White House counsel Don McGahn, on January 26, was told by acting Attorney General Sally Yates (as well as former national intelligence director James Clapper Jr. and CIA director John Brennan) not only that Flynn had been lying, but that the Russians were in a position to blackmail him, as they knew that he had been lying about the content of his calls to Kislyak, and had violated the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in such discussions with foreign governments. I would have thought that Trump, in order to protect himself, would have said that he hadn’t been made aware of this report made to McGahn. Apparently, though, the White House has decided to acknowledge the fact that he knew. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on the record this afternoon that Trump has known for “weeks” that Flynn lied to Pence and others about the content of his calls. In fact, according to Spicer, Trump heard the news the very same day that Yates told McGahn. Trump was briefed “immediately,” Spicer said today.

3. So, today Spicer said that Flynn was asked for his resignation on Monday because it had been determined that he’d lied to the Vice President about his calls to Kislyak. “Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue,” Spicer said, “and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That’s it. Pure and simple, it was a matter of trust.” But the thing is, we’ve already established that Trump was made aware of Flynn’s lying on January 26, “immediately” after Yates shared the information with McGahn. So, if he was fired for lying to the Vice President, why did Trump wait until February 13 to ask for Flynn’s resignation, when he had the evidence against him on January 26?

4. So, at 5:00 on Monday, Kellyanne Conway assured the press that Flynn had the “full confidence” of Trump. Then, just six hours later, it was reported that Flynn had resigned. I’d be interested to know what changed over that period of time? Why did the administration decide to jettison Flynn? Did Pence, who maybe really had been lied to, demand that he be forced out? Or did it perhaps have something to do with the news that broke at 8:00 PM that the administration has also been told on January 26 that, because of Flynn’s lie, he “might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow”? [And you have to respect the intelligence community for how they played this. They told the press, when the President declined to take action against Flynn on his own, that the White House had been told of Flynn’s lying. And, when that still didn’t produce the desired result, they added that the White House had also been warned that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.]

5. It’s being reported now that, not only did Flynn lie to White House staff about these calls to discuss the Russian sanctions levied by the Obama administration, but that he also lied to the FBI, an offense which could bring with it a felony charge… And, if that should happen, one wonders what Flynn might tell prosecutors in order to protect himself… Might he, in order to save his own hide, say that Trump had asked him to contact the Russians, which seems like the most plausible scenario here? [Why else would Trump have kept him after the 26th, when he first learned of the calls?]

6. Regardless of how all of this went down, I hope you’ll agree that we need hearings. Democrats in the House have been demanding a Russia investigation for some time now, but Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been denying them at every turn, choosing instead, if you can believe it, to investigate the funding of an episode of the PBS cartoon “Sid the Science Kid” about he Zika virus. Thankfully, it looks as though things have begun to turn. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said this evening that an investigation was “highly likely.” And other Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon. Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told KTRS radio the evening, “I think everybody needs that investigation to happen.” And Senator John Cornyn, the Senate’s second ranking Republican leader, and newly appointed member of the Senate intelligence panel, agreed, saying that an investigation would be “appropriate.” But the House, it seems, could still use some convincing. Chaffetz, the last I heard, was still saying, “I think that situation has taken care of itself.” So, if you’re anywhere near a phone today, call your Congressperson. And, if you have time after that, call Jason Chaffetz and tell him to do his job.

7. Assuming we’re right and all of this is happening because America’s intelligence community feels as though the Trump administration is a danger to the country, one wonders if they’ll be satisfied with Flynn’s resignation. Based on this new news item in the New York Times, I’m guessing not. Here’s how it begins… “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.” So now, it would appear, we have at least four members of the intelligence community telling the New York Times that there are more intercepted calls… calls made between members of the Trump team and Russian officials during the general election, at the time that we know the Russians were actively hacking the Clinton campaign in order to assist Trump. So, stay tuned. More dominos may be falling.

8. If I were a betting man, I’d say, in the next few days, we’ll be hearing more people talking about the role of oil in all this, and that mysterious 19% ownership stake in the Russian oil company Rosneft that we were discussing back in January… Just wait.

There’s so much more I want to say, but my weighted blanket is calling.

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