Sean Spicer says there’s nothing newsworthy about Steve Bannon being named to the National Security Council, the facts say otherwise

This afternoon, after first noting how may “likes” President Trump’s last web address had gotten on social media, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, seen above waving papers frantically, assured reporters that there was nothing newsworthy in the fact that, through executive action, the President had removed the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council, replacing them with his chief White House strategist, the controversial head of the Breitbart News Network, Steve Bannon, the man who has taken credit for bringing the alt-right (read “white nationalism”) into the mainstream.

Insisting that the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were welcome to attend the meetings whenever they liked, and that Trump had just removed them from the list of regular members in recognition of how valuable their time was, Spicer then went on to repeatedly raise and lower two handfuls of highlighted papers, claiming that, if we were to read them, we’d see that the Trump and Obama administrations organized the National Security Council in almost exactly the same way. The language in the two organizing documents, he told reporters, is “100 percent identical, except we add the word ‘also’.” This, as NPR points out in an article that places the two documents side by side, simply is “not true.” The reality is, the Trump administration is drastically changing the National Security Council, politicizing it in a way that’s never been done before. Spicer, when asked about this… when asked why Bannon, a known propagandist, was given a seat at the table… essentially said that Obama had done the same thing with his chief political advisor, David Axelrod. According to Spicer, the Trump administration is just being more honest and transparent about it.

Axelrod, as you might expect, sees things differently. The following is from his op-ed for CNN.

…As a senior adviser to President Obama in 2009, I had the opportunity to witness the fateful deliberations of his National Security Council Principals committee over the strategy the U.S would pursue in the war with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was not a member of the committee. I did not speak or participate. I sat on the sidelines as a silent observer with [former White House press secretary Robert] Gibbs because we would be called upon to publicly discuss the president’s decision on that critical matter and the process by which he arrived at it.

We knew our presence chagrined some of the principals but, acting on the president’s instructions, we were there to gain a thorough understanding of what would be one of the most important judgments he would make as commander-in-chief. Our access also came with limits. We were barred from some of the most sensitive meetings on the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review so as not to inhibit discussions. Beyond that, Gibbs and I did not attend regular meetings of the NSC Principals committee or their deputies nor were we invited to weekly meetings on terrorist threats…

In elevating Bannon to sit with the Secretaries of Defense and State and other key national security figures on the NSC principals committee, President Trump has blazed new ground. Bannon will exercise authority no political adviser has had before. He will be a full participant, not an observer, in national security deliberations.

Under the president’s announced structure, Bannon has eclipsed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence on the National Security Council. Indeed, Bannon already has emerged as the president’s most trusted adviser on global affairs, an area in which Trump has little expertise. It was Bannon who guided the drafting of Trump’s controversial immigration order. According to reports, the Secretary of Defense and director of Homeland Security were not consulted; the State Department was caught unawares…

Ten days in, this much is clear: Steve Bannon is playing a role in national security and foreign policy for which there is no precedent. And for better or worse, he already is making an impact.

Thankfully, more members of the press are beginning to focus Bannon and his rapid ascent to power within the Executive branch, as Trump’s inner circle tightens and others get pushed aside. The following is from an article just posted by Politico.

…“He’s telling Trump that he can do everything he said he would do on the campaign trail,” said a person close to the administration.

That’s won Bannon the president’s favor, and endeared him to his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Rather than telling Trump what he can’t do, Bannon — a self-made multimillionaire whom Trump sees as a peer rather than as an employee, according to people familiar with their relationship — has positioned himself alongside the president as an enemy of the Washington establishment, including the Republican Party.

During the transition, Bannon stayed away from many of the lower-level hiring decisions and avoided staff meetings that others attended, and focused instead on shaping the Cabinet. He was “integral” in the process of selecting Trump’s appointees, one person close to the team said.

Unlike some of Trump’s other advisers, Bannon doesn’t often appear on television or go to Washington dinners. He swears frequently and often dresses more casually than most White House staff, and generally seems most comfortable huddling with Trump privately or standing off to the side during large meetings.

“He has a great understanding of the American public and why Trump won the election, and he tells Trump about what people are really upset about and what they’re really concerned about,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And, Giuliani added, “Trump generally agrees with him.”…

Fortunately, though, it looks as though we may have an opportunity to intercede. According to MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, an obscure law exists that would require Bannon, because he doesn’t fit into an existing category for a seat on the National Security Council, to go through a Senate confirmation hearing before taking his seat at the table. So, while Trump was able, by presidential edict, to bring the controversial Bannon into the White House without the advice and consent of the Senate, it looks as though we might now have an opportunity to ask him, under oath, about his work disseminating fake news at Breitbart, his role in bringing white nationalism into the mainstream, the stories of his anti-semitism, and the allegations of domestic abuse in his past. So, if you have a moment, call your Senators, and ask them to look into 50 U.S. Code § 3021, and the possibility that it could be used to bring Bannon in front of a Senator committee for a confirmation hearing. If my hunch is right, Senators on both sides of the aisle would welcome an opportunity to rein Bannon in, and put the National Security Council back in the hands of the intelligence community… This is important stuff.

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The Trump administration uses Quebec shooting to justify Muslim ban, only to find the gunman was actually a white Trump supporter

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Last night, a gunman opened fire on people praying at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center, leaving six dead and five critically injured. Somehow, I didn’t hear about it until this afternoon, when I was listening to audio of Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s surreal and rambling press conference. Spicer, for those of you who may have missed it, referred to the shooting as “a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the President is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.” Yes, what happened in Quebec, according to Spicer, was justification for Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries… a terrifying illustration of what might happen of only we were to let the wrong Muslim into the United States. The only problem is, the shootings appear to have been the work of a white nationalist Trump supporter [seen above], and not a Muslim, as had been reported by Fox News and others. [A Muslim man, who had been praying at the Mosque, had apparently been questioned by authorities, but he was later released.]

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[Fox News got it wrong, as did several others on the right wing, including anti-Muslim activist Pamela Gellar, who said earlier today, “As I predicted last night, the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim, as is generally the case in these circumstances.”]

The following comes from Glenn Greenwald

…The actual shooting suspect is 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, a white French Canadian who is, by all appearances, a rabid anti-immigrant nationalist. A leader of a local immigration rights groups, François Deschamps, told a local paper he recognized his photo as an anti-immigrant far-right “troll” who has been hostile to the group online.

The Globe and Mail added that he “was known in the city’s activist circles as a right-wing troll who frequently took anti-foreigner and anti-feminist positions and stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump.” And Bisonnette’s Facebook page – now taken down but still archived – lists among its “likes” the far right French nationalist Marine Le Pen, Islam critics Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the Israeli Defense Forces, and Donald J. Trump…

So, where does that leave us now? If, as Sean Spicer noted, what happened in Quebec proved the need for executive action, will President Trump, now that we know what really happened, take swift action to block his white supporters, who, like Alexandre Bissonnette, have engaged in online trolling against Muslims and women, from entering the United States? After all, as journalist Shaun King just pointed out, “This white man murdered 6 more people than EVERY refugee from Donald Trump’s banned nation list combined.”

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Reince Priebus, asked why Trump didn’t explicitly mention the Jews in his International Holocaust Remembrance Day comments, says he wishes they could “wipe (the Holocaust) off the history books”

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On Meet the Press this morning, quite a bit of time was given to the fact that the White House had put out a statement yesterday, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, that did not reference either anti-Semitism or the fact that some 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis, choosing instead to focus on “all” the “innocent people” who suffered during that period of history.

Former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who was a guest on the program, said that the oversight was “not a coincidence.” “I think all of these things are happening together,” Kaine said, “When you have the chief political adviser in the White House, Steve Bannon, who is connected with a news organisation that traffics in white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and they put out a Holocaust statement that omits any mention of Jews.”

When asked whether he regretted the fact that the Jews weren’t mention in the statement, Reince Priebus, President Trump’s chief of staff, told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, “I don’t regret the words.” Priebus went on to say, “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including, obviously, all of the Jewish people.”

Kaine, who spoke after Priebus, broached the subject of Holocaust denial. “Many Holocaust deniers acknowledge, ‘Oh, yeah, people were killed. But it was a lot of innocent people. Jews weren’t targeted.’”

I certainly don’t know what the Trump administration had in mind when they made the decision not to note the fact that 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust. I suspect, however, that Kaine is likely onto something when he says that it must have been deliberate, as they have access to the statements from previous administrations, all of which mention the Jews. And it could well have been the decision of Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who, according to many, including his ex-wife, is an anti-Semite… Regardless of who is responsible, though, it looks bad for the administration, especially on a day when everyone is talking about their campaign of “malevolence” toward Muslims.

Given everything going on in the country right now, I probably wouldn’t have even mentioned this on the site, if not for the fact that Reince Priebus made a very unfortunate choice of words when acknowledging how terrible the Holocaust was. “If we could wipe it off the history books, we could, but we can’t,” he said. If you watch the video, you can see Chuck Todd visibly wince in response to the comment, which comes across like the honest confession of a Holocaust denier. For what it’s worth, I think it’s pretty clear that’s not what Priebus meant. He clearly meant to convey that he wished the Holocaust had never happened. That’s now what he said, though. He didn’t say, “If we could change history, we’d make sure the Holocaust never happened, but we can’t.” No, he said that, if they could, they’d wipe the Holocaust from the history books. Again, I’m not suggesting that it was anything more than an unfortunate slip, but it sent a shiver down my spine when I heard it, and I felt compelled share it here, for fear that, otherwise, the moment would be lost forever.

Here’s the video. Jump to the 11:25 mark.

Posted in Civil Liberties, History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Trump ban on Muslim-majority countries has nothing to do with national security, and everything to do with appeasing his racist base

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As we discussed last night, Trump’s clearly illegal ban on those entering the United States from majority-Muslim nations was interesting in that not all majority-Muslim nations were included. While Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen made the list, several others, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, did not… which is odd, given that’s where the 9/11 hijackers were from. Of course, as others have pointed out, Trump has economic interests in those countries, so maybe that went into the calculation. Regardless, it’s worth noting that this clearly has little do to with national security, which, come to think of it, is probably why, at the same time Trump signed this ban, he also removed the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council. [More on that in a minute.] No, as Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the conservative Brookings Institution Benjamin Wittes points out, this is all about giving Trump’s racist base the red meat that they crave, without thought as to the ramifications… Here’s a clip.

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

To be sure, the executive order does not say anything as crass as: “Sec. 14. Burdening Muslim Lives to Make Political Point.” It doesn’t need to. There’s simply no reason in reading it to ignore everything Trump said during the campaign, during which he repeatedly called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Even while he was preparing to sign the order itself, he declared, “This is the ‘Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.’ We all know what that means.” Indeed, we do. This document is the implementation of a campaign promise to keep out Muslims moderated only by the fact that certain allied Muslim countries are left out because the diplomatic repercussions of including them would be too detrimental…

I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.

So yes, the order is malevolent. But here’s the thing: Many of these malevolent objectives were certainly achievable within the president’s lawful authority. The president’s power over refugee admissions is vast. His power to restrict visa issuances and entry of aliens to the United States is almost as wide. If the National Security Council had run a process of minimal competence, it could certainly have done a lot of stuff that folks like me, who care about refugees, would have gnashed our teeth over but which would have been solidly within the President’s authority. It could have all been implemented in a fashion that didn’t create endless litigation opportunities and didn’t cause enormous diplomatic friction.

How incompetent is this order? An immigration lawyer who works for the federal government wrote me today describing the quality of the work as “look[ing] like what an intern came up with over a lunch hour. . . . My take is that it is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell the impact.” One of the reasons there’s so much chaos going on right now, in fact, is that nobody really knows what the order means on important points.

So, yeah, it looks as though we’ve been dragged into a colossal cluster fuck by a populist President who has absolutely no idea how the government works or what national security really means. This executive order, as Wittes tells us in the piece quoted above, was “not reviewed by (the Department of Homeland Security), the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Defense.” Furthermore, “National Security Council lawyers were prevented from evaluating it.” Also, “Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the agencies tasked with carrying out the policy, were only given a briefing call while Trump was actually signing the order itself.” So not only wasn’t this legislation looked at by government attorneys, but those charged with implementing it weren’t consulted. Is it any wonder that our airports are in turmoil?

This is not how you run a country.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Elizabeth Warren to crowds at Logan International Airport… “An attack on anyone for their religious beliefs, is an attack on the very foundation of Democracy.”

If you’re looking to make your feelings about the Muslim ban known, you have three opportunities today. There’s a protest in Ann Arbor between 12:00 and 3:00 [Peaceful Protest Against Immigration Ban (And Everything Else)], in Hamtramck at 2:00 [Emergency Protest Hamtramck: We Stand in Solidarity with Muslims] and at Detroit Metro Airport from 4:00 to 6:00 [DTW: Emergency Protest Against Muslim Ban].

Posted in Civil Liberties | 2 Comments

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