Sunday, May 28, 2017

Something to Know - 28 May

Trump is back on U.S. soil, and he is ready to start a war.   A war with the media and the public that is not on his side.  As this story from the Washington Post relates, the Trump administration is going to be consumed with a pro-active agenda that protects Trump from scrutiny, investigation, and the truth.  The business of the people is not on the front burner; it's all about Trump.  How the Congress plays with this is another matter.  Things are really going to get ugly now.

Trump considers major changes amid escalating Russia crisis

President Donald Trump departs after speaking during a town hall with business leaders in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
 May 27 at 3:14 PM 

President Trump and his advisers, seeking to contain the escalating Russia crisis that threatens to consume his presidency, are considering a retooling of his senior staff and the creation of a "war room" within the White House, according to several aides and outside Trump allies.

Following Trump's return to Washington on Saturday night from a nine-day foreign trip that provided a respite from the controversy back home, the White House plans to far more aggressively combat the cascading revelations about contacts between Trump associates — including Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser — and Russia.

White House officials also are trying to find ways to revive Trump's stalled policy agenda in Congress and to more broadly overhaul the way the White House communicates with the public.

That includes proposals for more travel and campaign-style rallies nationwide so that Trump can speak directly to his supporters, as well as changes in the pace and nature of news briefings, probably including a diminished role for embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

Although much remained fluid Saturday, the beefed-up operation could include the return of some of Trump's more combative campaign aides, including Corey Lewandowski, who was fired as campaign manager nearly a year ago, and David N. Bossie, who was deputy campaign manager and made his name in politics by investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton for two decades. Both men have been part of ongoing discussions about how to build a war room that have been led in part by chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

 Play Video 2:18
Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret channel with Kremlin
Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, asked him about setting up a communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in the United States. (Video: Alice Li,McKenna Ewen/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Other Trump players who have drifted from his orbit in recent months, such as Sam Nunberg, are also being courted to play more active roles, either officially joining the White House or in an outside capacity, working through confidants of the president.

"Go to the mattresses," a line from the film "The Godfather" about turning to tough mercenaries during troubled times, has circulated among Trump's friends, said two people close to the war room discussions.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, has been involved in related talks, including with prominent Trump backers outside Washington and on Capitol Hill, and has contacted people from Trump's campaign network, asking them to be more involved in supporting the president, said three GOP consultants working with the White House.

Meanwhile, White House counsel Donald McGahn is considering expanding his office, and an outside legal team led by Marc E. Kasowitz is preparing to meet with Trump and guide him, including on whether he should continue to comment on the Russia investigations on Twitter.

Kushner has played an active role in the effort to rethink and rearrange the communications team, improve the White House's surrogate operation, and develop an internal group to respond to the influx of negative stories and revelations over the FBI's Russia inquiry, said a person with knowledge of the coming changes. 

"The bottom line is they need fresh legs; they need more legs," said Barry Bennett, who served as a political adviser to Trump during the general-election campaign. "They're in full-scale war, and they're thinly staffed."

As Trump has participated in meetings with world leaders in recent days, senior aides — including Bannon, Kushner and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — have met in the White House to discuss a potential reshuffle.

Kushner's role has emerged as a particularly sensitive topic of discussion within the White House, as his actions have come under increasing scrutiny in the FBI investigation of Russian meddling in the presidential election.

The Washington Post reported Friday night that Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.

Some White House aides have discreetly discussed among themselves whether Kushner should play a lesser role — or even take a leave — at least until the Russia-related issues calm, but they have been reluctant to discuss that view with Kushner, and Kushner's network of allies within the West Wing has rallied behind him.

Those close to Kushner said he has no plans to take a reduced role, although people who have spoken to him say that he is increasingly weary of the nonstop frenzy.

In recent weeks, the White House brought on Josh Raffel as a spokesman to handle many of the issues in Kushner's portfolio; Raffel works out of a shared office in the West Wing, although he also has space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

During a lunch Friday, Kushner and Priebus talked about how Trump's foreign trip had gone and began outlining what is coming up in the weeks ahead. Earlier in the day in Kushner's office, the two briefly discussed the stories involving Kushner and Russia.

The president's lawyers have urged Trump not to write adversarial Twitter messages or make off-the-cuff comments about the Russia investigations, explaining that those utterances could further hurt him if it seems as though he's trying to obstruct the inquiries.

Underscoring the uncertainty of what lies ahead, some Trump associates said there have been conversations about dispatching Priebus to serve as ambassador to Greece — his mother is of Greek descent — as a face-saving way to remove him from the White House. A White House spokeswoman strongly denied that possibility Saturday.

The president has expressed frustration — both publicly and privately — with his communications team, ahead of the expected overhaul.

Although no final decisions have been made, one option being discussed is having Spicer — who has been parodied on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" — take a more behind-the-scenes role and give up his daily on-camera briefings.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, is being considered as a replacement behind the lectern. White House aides also have talked about having a rotating cast of staff brief the media, a group that could include officials such as national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Having several aides share the briefing responsibilities could help prevent Trump — who has a notoriously short attention span — from growing bored or angry with any one staff member.

The White House already has been testing this strategy, sending Spicer to the lectern along with another top staff member to talk about the news of the day: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on budget issues, for instance, or McMaster on questions of national security.

On Trump's foreign tour, Spicer held only one briefing, an informal gaggle with the small, traveling press pool. Otherwise, he served more as an emcee, introducing other senior administration officials at more formal briefings.

On Saturday, it was Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, and McMaster who headlined the U.S. news conference at the conclusion of the Group of Seven summit in Taormina, Italy. Spicer introduced them and then retired to the corner of the room to watch McMaster and Cohn parry questions from journalists.

The episode highlighted how difficult it is to drive Trump's agenda, with Russia so prominently in the news. The briefing grew testy after several questions related to Kushner's activities were posed to McMaster, who largely deflected them.

The expected revamp in White House operations comes at a key juncture in Trump's presidency, as his job-approval ratings continue to sag and he presses for progress on several marquee campaign promises — including revamping the Affordable Care Act and restructuring the tax code — before Congress takes its August recess.

A White House aide said Saturday that Trump also is considering pushing more modest initiatives in Congress that would stand a better chance of quick passage.

The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely, said that could include measures on immigration or infrastructure-related initiatives that most Republicans favor.

"They need accomplishments on issues that affect jobs," one Trump adviser said. "If the White House and Congress have nothing in hand to tout by this summer, members of Congress are going to come back after their August recess freaking out."

Conversations about a war room have focused on a model similar to what emerged during President Bill Clinton's tenure to cope with the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal and other crises. Clinton pulled together a team of lawyers and communication and political aides to deal with those issues apart from the regular White House structure, with the aim of letting other business proceed as normally as possible.

Aides and allies of Trump say they now realize that unflattering stories about Russia will be part of the daily conversation for now and acknowledge that the White House has been ill-equipped to handle them.

Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend, said the White House has been caught flat-footed on many of the Russia stories.

"Because they did not believe there's anything to it, they're playing catch-up to get their side of the story out," he said.

"At first, I thought the president was fretting too much about this," said Ruddy, who is chief executive of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. "But it keeps growing like a bad fungus, even though there's nothing there."

"The deep state and the swamp and many in the media are never going to let up," added Jason Miller, who served as Trump's senior communications adviser during the campaign and remains close to the White House. He is not expected to come back in a formal role.

The White House also has been pushing the Republican National Committee to defend the president more actively.

Members of the Trump family outside the White House have been ramping up their engagement in the president's political operation, eager to contribute and guide the party.

On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Eric's wife, Lara Trump, participated in a two-hour meeting at the RNC headquarters in Washington, according to three people familiar with the session who were not authorized to speak publicly.

RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney declined to address the specifics of the meeting but said the RNC is increasing its efforts to bolster Trump.

"The RNC's role is to support the president," Mahoney said. "We're focused on creating as much content as possible to ensure we're messaging effectively and doing so quickly in order to promote and defend this administration. It's our top priority."

Aides say they think Trump's agenda will be boosted by making more targeted appearances around the country to tout it.

And several advisers are pushing Trump to do more of the campaign-style rallies like the one he had planned in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday night. It has been postponed but will be rescheduled soon, Trump's campaign committee said.

Being outside of Washington among his supporters, particularly in a state he won last year, energizes Trump and provides a way for him to communicate without the filter of the media, his advisers say.

"The conventional ways of communicating are not working for them," one adviser said, adding that Trump should consider Facebook Live sessions and get out on the road "as frequently as possible."

"They have to get the campaign brand back," the adviser said.

Several Trump advisers cited the president's recent interview with NBC's Lester Holt, in which Trump made clear it was his idea to fire FBI Director James B. Comey, as the kind of thing to avoid going forward.

"I hope he'll travel more and do these rallies once a week," Bennett said. "You get to say whatever you want to say, and you don't have to take questions."

As the White House tried to strengthen its operations, some staff members who once fell out of favor with Trump have been brought back into conversations.

Lewandowski, who was fired from the campaign amid serious clashes with Kushner and the president's daughter Ivanka Trump, has been suggested as an effective messenger — either from inside the administration or from his current perch outside — to push back against the Russia controversy.

Nunberg, who was fired by the Trump campaign in 2015 and has been hostile to Lewandowski since, is now working with Ruddy. At a recent breakfast in Washington with Ruddy, Lewandowski and Alexandra Preate, a close ally of Bannon, the trio discussed whether Lewandowski and Nunberg could put aside their differences to again rally behind Trump, according to three people familiar with the conversation.

Aides to Trump say that they are pleased with the substance and the optics of his nine-day foreign trip, the first time he has traveled abroad as president, and that they hope that it willgenerate momentum for his agenda back home. Others aren't so sure.

"He was given the chance to look presidential and change the pictures on our television screens," said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. "But it will be harder for him to manage news back at home than abroad. . . . The worries he had when he left have not gone away. They've only gotten worse."

Philip Rucker in Italy contributed to this report.


"Other countries are going to get sick of us joining in, pulling out, joining in and pulling out and say, 'Are we really going to work with the U.S. on this anymore?'"

Michael Oppenheimer

 Professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton, referring to American shifts on the Paris climate accord.

Andy Borowitz

By Andy Borowitz   11:45 A.M.


TAORMINA, Italy (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump on Saturday accused the media of exaggerating his relationship with Jared Kushner, asserting that "I don't know him very well."

"He's someone I would see around the office and who, I guess, was working for me," Trump told reporters on the last leg of his foreign trip. "Beyond that, I couldn't tell you much about him."

Trump acknowledged that he had spoken to Kushner at times during the 2016 campaign. "I'd pass him in the hall and say hello," he said. "He seemed like an O.K. person. I never got much of a sense of the guy."

When asked whether Kushner might have had improper contact with Russian spies during the transition, Trump said, "I couldn't tell you if that's the kind of thing he'd do. You really should ask someone who knows him."

Trump refused to answer further questions about Kushner's possible legal difficulties, saying only, "I wish Garrett well."

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Something to Know - 27 May

Not all news is about the Donald and his continuing adventures, and the damage created along the way.  You can tune in or read almost on an hourly basis about a different chapter in what should be the end of his book.  You want other news?.....well get a load of this.  Any of you who were planning or know of persons who were planning to cruise up or down the beautiful California Coast, should pay attention.   The road between Ragged Point and Gorda is closed in a very big way.   A mountain slid down over the road and into the sea, creating a problem.   How does one get around it? and what is it going to take to fix it?   Forget about any handy-dandy detour, there is none, unless you have a helicopter.  Estimates are in the billion dollar range and at least a year or two of major work.   So, you can scratch this drive off your bucket list.   Any entrepreneur who wants to develop a ferry boat offering a scenic and new experience between the two end/starting points of the closure, may be the only way to take in this beautiful part of the California scene:

Landslide Closes Section of Popular Coastal Highway in California

A swath of a hillside gave way along Highway 1 in California on Saturday, burying a section of the scenic road under 40 feet of rock and dirt.CreditJohn Madonna, via Associated Press.

A swath of a hillside gave way along Highway 1 in California on Saturday, burying a section of the scenic road under 40 feet of rock and dirt.CreditJohn Madonna, via Associated Press.
Travelers in California enjoy the isolation that comes with driving along Highway 1, a serpentine route with steep cliffs known for its spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

That feeling of being cut off from civilization took on a different meaning on Saturday after more than 1 million tons of rock and dirt cascaded down a slope in a landslide the likes of which local officials said they had never seen before.

The slide buried about a quarter of a mile of the highway in dirt up to 40 feet deep. The road, also known as State Route 1,  was shut for about 12 miles from Ragged Point to Gorda, Calif., which is about 70 miles south of Monterey.

Aerial photos show a mound of dirt shaped like a duck's bill protruding 250 feet from the shoreline into the ocean. The hillside, with two long scrapes exposing stripes of brown, looked as if it had been clawed.

State officials do not have an estimate for when a section of Highway 1 will be opened.

No one was injured. The authorities said they could not estimate when the section of road would be reopened but said it would take months.

"This is by far the worst we've ever seen," Susana Z. Cruz, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation, said on Wednesday.

Smaller landslides had been occurring at the site since January. That section had been recently closed to the public as crews worked to stabilize the hillside, but conditions deteriorated, and the workers were pulled out last week, she said.

There are enough landslides there that locals have names for them. This one was called  Arleen's Slide, after a longtime road flagger who works in that area.

Highway 1, which is more than 600 miles long with numerous hairpin turns, is a popular destination for tourists and sightseers.

It meanders jaggedly along the coastline in the state's Big Sur region and provides breathtaking views. It is dotted with rustic restaurants, resorts and campsites, and in the southern portion of the area, in San Simeon, Calif., it is known for a beach where elephant seals congregate and for the opulent Hearst Castle.

Highway 1 in California near the Bixby Creek Bridge.CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times
The landslide on Saturday in an area called Mud Creek was the latest disruption to businesses and residents along the route. A project to replace the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge farther north caused a section of Route 1 to be shut.

To cope with that road closure, a resort, the Post Ranch Inn, has transported guests by helicopter, Stan Russell, the executive director of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, said on Wednesday. He said it was "business as usual" north of the bridge project, which is expected to be completed by September.

As for the landslide, he said residents and businesses were accustomed to having crews  remove rocks from the road every day. "This one," he added, "this one, people are referring to as the mother of all landslides."

At the Ragged Point Inn and Resort in Ragged Point, Calif., reservations were down by 50 percent compared with last year, Cindy Conner, the hotel manager, said on Wednesday.

"If you look at our screen from last year, our reservations were completely filled," she said. "And now I'm looking just at a lot of white, which means vacancies."

The 39-room resort is open, but a barricade has been set up just beyond it, cutting off traffic that would be coming from or headed toward the area where the landslide happened. Ms. Conner said the resort is a popular wedding venue and is promoting deals for local residents.

She said guests have been disappointed to learn that they cannot head north beyond the resort.

"I've had people come in and say this was on their bucket list," she said. "It's sad."

A rainy and snowy winter — one of the heaviest on record in California — broke the state's five-year drought but also caused flooding and landslides.

"This type of thing may become more frequent, but Big Sur has its own unique geology," Dan Carl, a district director for the California Coastal Commission whose area includes Big Sur, told The Associated Press. "A lot of Big Sur is moving; you just don't see it."

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated an alternate name for Highway 1 in Big Sur. It is Cabrillo Highway, not Pacific Coast Highway, a name for a different section of the route.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Friday, May 26, 2017

Something to Know - 26 May

Any serious news article from any serious US publication is in the process of identifying the dots and connecting them together.  This contribution from the NY Times is but one example.  By taking Paul Manafort and his connection to Trump and the election campaign of 2016, and following his activities and those of Michael Flynn, stones are being unturned for us to see what was going on, and what leads to current events.   More people in Trump's inner circle are being tarnished with the stench corruption.   As more people are identified as "people of interest", and their subsequent identification as "objects of investigation", this all becomes Watergate Deja VĂș.  Nixon's problems were related to his mean spirit and feelings of insecurity.   This whole thing of Trump will eventually take us through the trail of following the money and his own brand of insecurity.  We are in for a long and interesting ride as soon as Air Force One returns to Andrews AFB.

Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Credit Win McNamee/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump's opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump's advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump's associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they "raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals."

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as "fake news," insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

"If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed," Mr. Manafort said in a statement. "I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections."

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment. Mr. Flynn's lawyer did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it.

Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him.

In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials.

"I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive," Mr. Brennan said. Still, he said, even at the end of the Obama administration he had "unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion."

Mr. Brennan's testimony offered the fullest public account to date of how American intelligence agencies first came to fear that Mr. Trump's campaign might be aiding Russia's attack on the election.

By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans — foreign spies had hacked previous campaigns, and the United States does the same in elections around the world, officials said. The view on the inside was that collecting information, even through hacking, is what spies do.

But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.

An unclassified report by American intelligence agencies released in January stated that Mr. Putin "ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election."

Before taking the helm of the Trump campaign last May, Mr. Manafort worked for more than a decade for Russian-leaning political organizations and people in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych, the former president. Mr. Yanukovych was a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Manafort's links to Ukraine led to his departure from the Trump campaign in August, after his name surfaced in secret ledgers showing millions in undisclosed payments from Mr. Yanukovych's political party.

Russia views Ukraine as a buffer against the eastward expansion of NATO, and has supported separatists in their yearslong fight against the struggling democratic government in Kiev.

Mr. Flynn's ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow's seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.

But in private life, Mr. Flynn cultivated even closer ties to Russia. In 2015, he earned more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia, including a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, and an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia's intelligence services.

The biggest payment, though, came from RT, the Kremlin-financed news network. It paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 to give a speech in Moscow, where he also attended the network's lavish anniversary dinner. There, he was photographed sitting next to Mr. Putin.

A senior lawmaker said on Monday that Mr. Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about how he was paid for the Moscow trip. He also failed to disclose the source of that income on a security form he was required to complete before joining the White House, according to congressional investigators.

American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.

But after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the calls, Mr. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after a tumultuous 25 days in office.


If poverty is a "state of mind" Doctor Carson, then how would you diagnose hunger, homelessness and 
addiction - mere hallucinations?

- Adam Schiff

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Something to Know - 24 May

It may be nice for to have Trump out of the country to get his on-the-job-training, and maybe a bit of a geography lesson at the same time.   When he gets back, he is going to wish he was still around the well-engineered crowds with no placards of protest.   He has left enough detritus from his past performances that just will never go away.   The Congress is in "witch-hunt" mode, and the general public is about to grasp his budget proposal.   In my opinion, he has no real idea of what his budget says.   It really all is the stuff that his rich pals wanted to do, and that is why they stuck to his campaign to get him elected.   Trump is being used by the Russians and the 1%.  He has no clue as to what he is doing.  Just a Dunce with a weird hair-do and a long tie.  What is he going to say about his praise of the guy in Manila?

The Daily 202
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Trump's praise for Duterte's drug war underscores his contempt for human rights
Trump extends a controversial invitation to the leader of the Philippines

THE BIG IDEA: It's one thing to not "lecture" foreign governments who abuse human rights. It's something else entirely to praise them for it. And that's exactly what Donald Trump did last month when he called Rodrigo Duterte.

The Post's David Nakamura and Barton Gellman yesterday obtained a transcript of his April 29th phone call with the president of the Philippines.

"I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job (you're doing) on the drug problem," Trump told Duterte at the start of their conversation, according to the document. "Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that."

"Thank you Mr. President," replied Duterte. "This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation."

Trump, who affectionately referred to Duterte as "Rodrigo" during their chat, then took an unsolicited dig at Barack Obama. "I … fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that," the U.S. president said. "You are a good man … Keep up the good work. … You are doing an amazing job."

Philippines' Duterte lashes out at Obama in profane tirade

Duterte called Obama the "son of a whore" during a press conference last September. When he promised to curse out the then-president if he brought up his death squads, the White House canceled a bilateral sit-down that had been scheduled. When Obama later raised concerns about his human rights record, Duterte replied that he could "go to hell." (He often uses unprintable profanity.)

-- The context of Trump's comments matters: Duterte is an authoritarian thug. He has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers. His abuses are well documented, including in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch.

Duterte has publicly compared his campaign to crack down on drugs to the Holocaust, saying he would like to "slaughter" millions of drug addicts just like Adolf Hitler "massacred" millions of Jewish people. "Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. ... I'd be happy to slaughter them," he told reporters last September. While Hitler (who actually killed closer to six million Jews) spoke of a "final solution," Duterte says his campaign of mass killings is the only way to "finish the problem."

He has said he would kill his own children if they ever took drugs.

One victim of Duterte's crackdown was a 5-year-old girl, who was shot in the head last summer when armed men came to her house in search of her grandfather.

Eleven days before Trump phoned him, Duterte told a group of Filipino workers in the Middle East that if they lose their jobs because of the falling price of oil they can always come home to work for him. "If you lose your job, I'll give you one: Kill all the drug addicts," he saidaccording to the Philippine Star. "Help me kill addicts … Let's kill addicts every day."

The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize this year for a series of powerful photographs "showing the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about" by Duterte's policies.

A witness has testified that before Duterte became president, when he was a mayor of Davao City, he paid a squad of hit men to carry out summary executions that involved feeding a body to a crocodile, chopping up corpses and dumping slashed bodies into the sea.

Duterte has boasted to a group of Manila businessmen, on camera, about killing criminals in cold blood when he was mayor: "In Davao I used to do it personally, just to show the (cops) that if I can do it, why can't you?"

He joked last year that the victim of a gang rape was "so beautiful" that he wishes he had "been first."

Yesterday he declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, as his security forces battled heavily armed militants linked to the Islamic State.

Trump on controversial world leaders

-- Trump caught his own aides off guard during his phone call to Duterte by extending an open invitation for him to come visit the White House at any time, with no preconditions. "I will love to have you in the Oval Office," Trump said, per the transcript. "Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know."

-- A senior administration official, who confirmed that the quotes in the transcript produced by the Philippines government are accurate, said that the president was not condoning Duterte's "individual tactics." Rather, the official said, this was Trump's "way of expressing solidarity over a common scourge." But that's not at all clear from the transcript, and it's certainly not the impression any reasonable person on the other end of the line would have been left with.

-- Trying to advance our national interest, previous presidents of both parties have certainly looked the other way instead of confronting human rights abuses. But they felt they had no choice, especially during the Cold War, and none seemed to relish this dark side of realpolitik.

-- As part of his so-called "America First" agenda, Trump seems not just content but determined to have America abdicate its moral leadership in the world. It's hard to claim American Exceptionalism when Trump praises Duterte this way. It's hard to say we're a shining city upon a hill when the American president consistently treats despotic strongmen with greater respect than democratically-elected allies.

-- The president's sometimes over-the-top praise for totalitarian leaders has beencovered extensivelyfrom Russia's Vladimir Putin to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin meet at the Kremlin in Moscow yesterday. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP)</p>

Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin meet at the Kremlin in Moscow yesterday. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP)

-- Coincidentally, Duterte was meeting with Putin at the Kremlin yesterday around the time that the Post's story about the transcript broke. He's referred to the Russian president as his "favorite hero." This is from the write-up by RT, the government-financed propaganda network: "Duterte, who called Russia a 'reliable partner,' also emphasized that Manila is ready to develop relations with Moscow and is looking forward to purchase Russian arms." Putin also lavished him with praise.

-- Words matter: Autocrats have heard Trump loud and clear, and they're emboldened. Abby Phillip and David Nakamura note that almost no attention was paid to the concerns that have made Saudi Arabia rank among the most repressive nations on Earth during the president's visit this weekend. "Political protests in Saudi Arabia can be punishable by a death sentence and freedom of expression is severely limited. But Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross highlighted the absence of dissenters as a sign of the 'genuinely good mood' during Trump's visit. ... And Sunday, a lone event on Trump's schedule aimed at bolstering civil society in Saudi Arabia was scrapped."

"We are not here to lecture," Trump said during his Sunday speech in Riyadh, speaking to about 50 political leaders of Muslim nations, many of which are led by strongmen. "We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values."

-- The foreign policy establishment was collectively horrified by the transcript of the Trump-Duterte call.

From a Brookings scholar:

A former Obama National Security Council spokesman:

The U.S. attorney who Trump fired called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his views on how Duterte is prosecuting the drug war:

A Politico editor, who used to cover foreign policy, thought it was odd that Trump asked Duterte for advice about dealing with North Korea:

"Morning Joe" thinks Trump's call was really all about the Benjamins:

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson