Friday, January 31, 2020

Something to Know - 31 January


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Andy Borowitz



Joaqun El Chapo Guzmn.
Photograph by Susana Gonzalez / Bloomberg / Getty

FLORENCE, COLORADO (The Borowitz Report)—The convicted drug lord known as El Chapo said on Thursday that he was "outraged" his 2019 trial had included witnesses. He also revealed that he was demanding a new trial without them.

Speaking from ADX Florence, a maximum-security facility in Colorado, the former drug kingpin complained that his trial would have resulted in a speedy acquittal had it not been for the irritating presence of witnesses.

"If I had to point to one reason why I was convicted of all of those crimes, it would have to be witnesses," he said. "Once the decision was made to include witnesses, things really went downhill for me."

El Chapo said that, at the time of his trial, he had been totally unaware that it was possible to have a trial without any witnesses at all.

"I didn't know that was a thing," he said. "If someone had told me that you could have a witness-free trial, that's the route I would have gone, for sure."

The former criminal mastermind said that he was now actively seeking a new trial without witnesses because, in his opinion, "witnesses ruin everything."

"For the good of the country, it's time to move on," he said.

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Something to Know - 30 January

The Republicans (actual ones at GeeOpie ones)  cannot handle the truth.  The Fear from the Cult of Trump is their guiding light, and McConnell is going to use his station to stuff this trial into the sewer of the widening swamp.   The distraction of a trial on Hunter Biden is all they got; that and the excuse that anything Trump does is actually in the public interest, and that abuse of power is not really an impeachable offense....blah...blah...blah.  The Truth will emerge, sooner or later.

The Court of Public Opinion will rise to the occasion between now and November, and this trial will be fruitful to the laws of this land and our Democracy.
Now, it's time to go out into my yard and rake up all the mess that yesterday's wind storm left behind.   Life does go on


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Something to Know - 29 January

Tired of all the impeachment buzz and distractions.  Take a break, if you are.   If you are not watching, feast on this:




Dear Friends,


To help save the economy, the Government will announce next month that the Immigration Department will start deporting seniors (instead of illegal's) in order to lower Social Security and Medicare costs. Older people are easier to catch and will not remember how to get back home. 


Be sure to send this notice to your relatives and friends, so they will know what happened to you.


I started to cry when I thought of you. Then it dawned on me; I'll see you on the  bus.




Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Something to Know - 28 January

Several news items have hit us in the last few minutes, which will be detailed at the end of this article.   (1) There is this article from today's LA Times from Jonah Goldberg on why Bolton should be allowed to testify.  After the op-ed, there is (2) an account of Senator Diane Feinstein saying that she "might" vote to acquit Trump, and then (3) A news article that Mitch McConnell is telling his GeeOpie caucus that he does not have the votes to block witnesses in the continuation of the Senate Impeachment of DJT.   It's all here folks.

Let Bolton testify under oath
The former national security advisor under Trump is disgruntled, and yeah, he wants to sell books. But he is no liar.

Analysis: Before any Iran conflict, Trump faces war within his own team

I'm sure John Bolton is disgruntled, and of course he wants to sell books. But, despite what President Trump says, he's no liar.

PRESIDENT TRUMP has responded angrily to news reports that a forthcoming book by his former national security advisor, John Bolton, right, contains allegations that Trump withheld Ukrainian aid to get help in investigating Joe Biden. (Olivier Douliery TNS) 

"I 'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count."
Those words were bellowed by John Bolton in a Tallahassee library in December of 2000, when he was part of a team of Republican lawyers trying to stop the Florida recount of votes cast in the Bush-Gore race. Until now, it was the most famous utterance President Trump's former national security advisor had ever made. That's about to change with the looming publication of his book, due out in March, about serving in the Trump administration. It's even vaguely possible he could make an appearance in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump this week.

Still it's worth considering the irony of Bolton's earlier words. The Bush vs. Gore Florida recount wasn't the beginning of our divided times, but it was a major inflection point. It pushed the internal combustion engine of partisanship into a higher gear, and we've never really revved back down. And at this point, Bolton is in the strange position of not fitting comfortably on either side of the partisan divide.

The gist of Bolton's story is that the president's story is not true. According to an account of the book's contents reported in the New York Times, Bolton says he heard Trump say he was withholding aid to the Ukrainians pending an investigation into Biden and other Democrats. (One wonders who these other Democrats were.) The N.Y. Times story says the book also contradicts statements about who knew what and when inside the administration, no doubt causing heartburn for White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Atty. Gen. William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, off-book fixer Rudy Giuliani and, of course, all of the GOP senators determined to avoid hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial.

The response from Trump World is predictable. Bolton is a disgruntled liar, bitter over being fired and desperate to sell books. I have no doubt Bolton — a former colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute — is disgruntled. I'm also sure he very much wants to sell books. But I don't buy the lying part.

Bolton may be many of the things his detractors claim, but he is also an incredibly adept lawyer and bureaucratic infighter. On different occasions when National Security Council staffers Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison were dismayed by what the president was up to with Ukraine, his advice was to "tell the lawyers" (in Morrison's words). When Hill told Bolton that she'd heard Gordon Sondland — Trump's EU ambassador and administration point person on the Ukrainian scheme — tell the Ukrainians that he and Mulvaney would arrange a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into Biden, Bolton replied, "You go and tell [NSC Counsel John Eisenberg] that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you've heard and what I've said."

The notion that Bolton, a legendary note-taker, would volunteer to testify — if subpoenaed — only to perjure himself is absurd. That he would make false allegations in a book without contemporaneous corroboration of some kind seems far-fetched, as well. There's only one way to know, though: Have Bolton tell his version under oath.
As of this writing, the ink on the official "Destroy Bolton" narrative hasn't dried yet, but an early contender is the charge that this is all just a replay of the tactics Democrats used to try to derail Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. A popular claim on the right for weeks, it's in full bloom now. In a tweet promoting his new podcast, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said, "Last week we had Lev Parnas on Maddow & 'secret tapes'; this week, the 'Bolton revelations.' It's the same approach Dems & media followed during the Kavanaugh hearing."
Except it's not at all. The only thing similar about the two controversies is that new allegations kept inconveniencing politicians who wanted to move on. By that standard nearly every unfolding Washington scandal is like the Kavanaugh hearings.

Putting aside the hilarity of John "Stop the Count" Bolton being a willing pawn of the Democrats, there were no recorded telephone calls in the Kavanaugh case confirming elements of the charges against him. None of the accusations against Kavanaugh had anything like the sort of corroboration and material evidence already in the public record in the impeachment case. And Trump's former national security advisor isn't relying on a decades-old unverifiable recollection, but events from a few months ago.

But the biggest difference between how the Senate handled the Kavanaugh smear campaign and how it's handling the impeachment case is this: With Kavanaugh, Senate Republicans bent over backward to hear from witnesses; with Trump, they've gone into a defensive crouch to avoid it. And that may not be enough any longer.
@ JonahDispatch


Just after President Trump's defense lawyers ended arguments in their Senate trial Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein suggested she could vote to acquit him, despite serious concerns about his character.

"Nine months left to go, the people should judge. We are a republic, we are based on the will of the people — the people should judge," Feinstein said Tuesday, after the president's team finished a three-day presentation in his defense. "That was my view and it still is my view."

Still, she indicated that arguments in the trial about Trump's character and fitness for office had left her undecided. "What changed my opinion as this went on," she said, is a realization that "impeachment isn't about one offense. It's really about the character and ability and physical and mental fitness of the individual to serve the people, not themselves."

Asked whether she would ultimately vote to acquit, she demurred, saying, "We're not finished."

After those remarks were published, Feinstein issued a statement saying she had been misunderstood.

"Before the trial I said I'd keep an open mind. Now that both sides made their cases, it's clear the president's actions were wrong. He withheld vital foreign assistance for personal political gain. That can't be allowed to stand."

Feinstein's original remark went further than any of her fellow Democrats in suggesting that she might vote for acquittal. Several Democrats have not ruled out voting for acquittal. But only two Democrats were considered truly up for grabs because of the strong support for Trump in their states: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama.

Manchin told CNN on Saturday that Trump's team did a "good job" in its initial arguments, "making me think about things." He said separately on Fox, "I am totally undecided."

Feinstein's comments came after final arguments from Trump lawyers in which they broadly dismissed the elephant in the Senate chamber: a leaked firsthand account from John Bolton, the former national security advisor, that the president directly tied aid to Ukraine to his demands for the country to investigate political rival Joe Biden.

Feinstein told reporters that her office had received roughly 125,000 letters in support of the impeachment last week, and about 30,000 against it. "There is substantial weight to this," she said, "and the question is: Is it enough to cast this vote?"

The revelation on Sunday from a draft manuscript of Bolton's upcoming book, undercut the president's defense and splintered Republicans, leaving a few of them calling for Bolton and other witnesses to testify. GOP leaders have opposed calling witnesses, which would prolong the trial and introduce potentially damning testimony, upending White House and Senate Republicans' plans for Trump's quick acquittal.

The trial is heading into a crucial stage. On Wednesday senators are planning to start their public questioning of both the defense team and the Democratic House impeachment managers, with key votes on whether to call witnesses. The outcome of a vote on allowing witnesse, expected Friday, remained uncertain after a closed-door strategy session of Senate Republicans on Tuesday afternoon. "No clear conclusions," said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

After the Trump team initially sidestepped the Bolton reports in their arguments Monday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow urged the Senate on Tuesday to ignore the recent reports.

Impeachment, Sekulow said, "is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That is politics unfortunately." Alexander Hamilton, he continued, "put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically, to be above that fray." The Senate, Sekulow said, should "end the era of impeachment for good."

Alan Dershowitz, a veteran defense attorney, was the only member of Trump's 10-person team to mention Bolton's name Monday, the first full day of the lawyers' presentation. While Trump has argued that his July 25 call with the Ukrainian president that prompted the impeachment inquiry was "perfect," Dershowitz at one point suggested a different defense tack, arguing essentially, so what?

"Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense," Dershowitz told the Senate in his first appearance at the trial.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) echoed that argument Tuesday, suggesting that even if Democrats could get the necessary four Republican votes for a majority in favor of subpoenaing Bolton or other witnesses, it wouldn't make much of a difference given that the Republican-majority Senate will almost certainly vote to acquit the president.

"To me, it seems like the facts are largely undisputed; I don't know what additional witnesses will tell us," Cornyn said of Bolton. "We know what the facts are, and the question is whether the facts meet the constitutional standard of 'high crimes and misdemeanors.'"

Trump's lawyers have continued to assert that Trump had "done nothing wrong" and was genuinely interested in combating corruption in Ukraine when he directed that nearly $400 million in security assistance and a White House meeting with its president be withheld as he pushed the new government to announce probes of Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was vice president.

The president's lawyers have said that House Democrats didn't provide any firsthand witnesses or direct evidence to prove their charges that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his potential rival in the 2020 presidential election and then obstructed Congress to cover it up.

Bolton, a combative conservative and a hawk on national security, declined a House invitation to testify but subsequently said he would do so at the Senate trial if subpoenaed. However, the White House issued a blanket order blocking officials and documents, calling the impeachment process illegitimate.

The Bolton allegations have fractured the largely united front that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had maintained. Several mostly moderate Republicans who'd been open to calling witnesses have now become more so.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) made an impassioned speech during a party lunch Monday arguing for Bolton to be called, leading to a direct attack from colleague Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.). Afterward, Romney told reporters that "it's increasingly likely" that there will be enough votes to subpoena Bolton.

Underscoring the chaos the Bolton report has unleashed, other once-resistant Republicans seemed to shift their position on witnesses.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the president's closest allies in the Senate, initially opposed calls for any witnesses, whether the Bidens or Bolton. He seemed to reverse himself Monday after the Bolton reports, and Tuesday he supported a proposal by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that Bolton's manuscript be made available for senators to read in a classified setting known as a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. The idea could be viewed as a way of getting Bolton's information to the Senate without his public testimony.

Each senator would have "the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination," Graham tweeted.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader, rejected the proposal as "absurd."

"It's a book," Schumer said of Bolton's manuscript, which is set to publish in March. "There's no need for it to be read in the SCIF unless you want to hide something."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) questioned Bolton's motivations for wanting to testify, and the timing of the leak. "Democrats have spent a lot of time imagining what the president's motives are," Paul said. "Someone ought to spend some time imaging what John Bolton's motives are other than making millions of dollars to trash the president." And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) quipped, "I'm sure Mr. Bolton would rather I'd bought the book."

Other Republican senators indicated they'd continue taking their cue from the president's team. Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general, pushed unproved theories that the Bidens engaged in corruption in Ukraine. Kenneth W. Starr, the prosecutor whose four-year investigation ultimately led to the impeachment of Democratic President Clinton, claimed that the impeachment process itself is being abused for political ends.

As Trump's defense team wrapped up, the war over witnesses is likely to be reflected in senators' written questions to the president's lawyers and the Democratic House managers. They have up to 16 hours on Wednesday and Thursday for questions, which will go back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, to be read aloud by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Roberts said on Tuesday that lawyers on both sides should adhere to Chief Justice William Rehnquist's guidelines in the Clinton trial of a five-minute cap on answers.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate minority whip, said he had whittled his nearly 30 questions down to nine. Democratic leaders have collected draft questions to "avoid duplication and pick the ones in sequences that make sense in terms of delivering a message," he said. Schumer said Democrats' questions would give House managers a chance to rebut the Trump lawyers' claims.

Several questions are expected about Bolton, with Republicans focusing on why the House didn't push harder to get his testimony. Both Republicans and Democrats have also suggested they have questions about Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, who was central to the dealings in Ukraine.

"I want to confirm that Rudy Giuliani was working personally for the president and not on behalf of the United States of America," said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.)

Manchin has said he would also like to hear from Trump's White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, based on testimony during the House impeachment investigation about his dealings with Trump on Ukraine policy.

It remains unclear what sort of agreement Republicans and Democrats could reach on calling witnesses, with additional testimony carrying risks for both sides. Many Republicans have said they would agree to calling Bolton only if the Bidens are also subpoenaed, while Democrats say they won't be any part of any such "trade," because the Bidens are irrelevant to the charges against Trump.

"I'll make a prediction: [There will] be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistleblower," Graham warned. "If people want witnesses, we're going to get a lot of witnesses."

Durbin called the idea of bargaining over testimony — "'Well, we'll give you one material witness for one relevant witness'" — "baloney." Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) said that agreeing to call Biden in exchange for Bolton would make Democrats "complicit" in Trump's original scheme to smear Biden.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) argued Tuesday morning against any witnesses. "When you open the door a little you'll never satiate the appetite that House managers have for witnesses," Cramer said. "It's as though they want to go fishing in the United States Senate and they're going to fish until they catch one."


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters after the weekly policy lunch in Washington, D.C., May 14, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on Tuesday said he doesn't have the votes to block a resolution to allow witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, according to multiple reports.

McConnell made the admission in talks with Senate Republicans after President Trump's defense team concluded its arguments.

If the Senate votes to summon witnesses, Democrats will likely attempt to call on former White House national security adviser John Bolton to give testimony in the trial. On Sunday the New York Times reported that Bolton wrote in the manuscript of his upcoming book that Trump had conditioned aid to Ukraine on that country's commitment to conduct investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden.

Republicans may react to a subpoena of Bolton by summoning Hunter Biden and the government whistleblower, whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry, to testify.

"Those are the ones that I want to call," Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on Monday of Hunter Biden and the whistleblower, despite having told reporters on Friday that he would vote against summoning Hunter Biden. "If we add to the record, we are going to do it completely."

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) concurred during an interview on Fox & Friends.

"My view is this — if the Senate decides to call witnesses later this week . . . we need to hear from Hunter Biden, he is right at the center of this," Hawley said. "What was he doing in Ukraine? What was he doing with Burisma?"

Hawley also wrote on Twitter, "if the Senate is going to call witnesses, then I will ask to hear from Adam Schiff, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden & the whistleblower, at a minimum."


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Monday, January 27, 2020

Andy Borowitz


John Bolton speaks to Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump has "no intention whatsoever" of having John Bolton's book read aloud to him, Trump confirmed on Monday.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said that his daughter, Ivanka Trump, had obtained a draft manuscript of the Bolton book and had offered to read it aloud to him "like she does with all of the other books," Trump said.

"She reads the books to me slowly and stops when there's a long word to tell me what it means," Trump said. "But I told her that the Bolton book was the last book in the world that I wanted to hear."

Trump acknowledged that Ivanka had previously read aloud to him other books that he had not enjoyed, such as "A Warning," by Anonymous.

"That Anonymous guy has to be the worst writer," he said. "After Ivanka read ten pages of that crap to me, I told her to throw the book across the room, and she did."

Trump said that he hears "many books" a week, and that sometimes his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, takes turns with Ivanka reading them aloud to him.

"I've enjoyed hearing Sean Hannity's books and Laura Ingraham's books," Trump said. "But John Bolton's? Please. That's the last book I want to hear when Ivanka and Jared tuck me in at night."-

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Friday, January 24, 2020

Something to Know - 24 January

Of all the excuses for hiding a big lie that he promised not to mess with, using his Impeachment Trial to distract from the fact that he is now putting Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlements on the chopping block, after his huge tax cut to the rich and corporate folks, well this is Trump at his cold-hearted lying worst:

Trump opens the door to Social Security cuts
President Trump speaks with CNBC's Joe Kernen

PRESIDENT TRUMP, speaking with CNBC's Joe Kernen at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, signaled he was open to cutting back Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs. 
With his penchant for saying the quiet parts out loud and assuming no one is paying attention, President Trump on Wednesday opened the door to cutting Social Security and Medicare later this year.
The word came at the very end of an interview conducted by Joe Kernen of CNBC, in connection with Trump's appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Here's how it unfolded, according to the tape and transcript from CNBC:

"KERNEN: Entitlements ever be on your plate?
"PRESIDENT TRUMP: At some point they will be. We have tremendous growth. We're going to have tremendous growth. This next year I — it'll be toward the end of the year. The growth is going to be incredible. And at the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that's actually the easiest of all things, if you look, cause it's such a —"
Trump then wandered off into a string of false and incoherent claims about the economy. "We've never had growth like this," he said, even though economic growth during Trump's term is nowhere near a record pace.

What's important is that Trump appears to be falling into lockstep with the more general Republican position that closing the federal deficit requires cutting back on Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs. Never mind that the deficit was opened into a gaping maw by the tax cut Trump signed in December 2017, which went mostly to corporations and the wealthy, the effect of which goosed economic growth for a short period but has faded.

Other commentators have underscored the conflict between Trump's appearing open to tampering with Social Security and Medicare, and his promise during the last presidential campaign to leave those programs alone.
"Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security," he said in one appearance. "They want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can't do that. And it's not fair to the people that have been paying in for years."

Just before election day 2016, he claimed: "Hillary Clinton is going to destroy your Social Security and Medicare. … I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare."
Cutting benefits has been part of Republican orthodoxy for decades, but the drumbeat has gotten louder. In September, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) talked about the need to go "behind closed doors" to reform Social Security, because it's clear that the American public won't stand for it being done in the open. A year earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) labeled Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — so-called entitlements — "the real drivers of the debt" and called for them to be adjusted "to the demographics of the future."

It's worth noting that proposals to cut social insurance benefits are certain to be dead on arrival as long as Democrats control at least one chamber of Congress, as they do currently. Indeed, the Democratic Party, through its representatives in Congress and its candidates for president, has shown itself to be strongly in favor of expanding and increasing Social Security benefits, not cutting them back.
Trump still can do a lot of damage to these programs by starving their administrative budgets or tinkering with administrative rules, as he's proposed to do with Medicaid and Social Security Disability Insurance.

As I've reported before, Trump's cavalier approach to these programs isn't really a secret.
His proposed 2020 budget would have pared as much as $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, partially by repealing the Medicaid expansion enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, and partially by converting the program to a block grant to states — a system that destroys the program's ability to match funding with costs and results in a massive shortfall over time.
Trump's budget would gut the nation's disability programs by $84 billion. At least $10 billion of that would come from Social Security disability through changes in eligibility rules. An additional $400 million would come out of the Social Security Administration's administrative budget, which is already strapped for cash, in the next year alone. Beneficiaries could expect more busy signals on the phone lines and longer waits at Social Security offices.

In October, Trump signed an executive order bristling with stealth attacks on Medicare. Buried within the order was a provision that would destroy Medicare by driving its costs to an unsustainable level. He also proposed to turn more of the program over to commercial insurers. As I wrote then, "Put simply, he's proposing to privatize Medicare."
Again, all this has been hiding in plain sight. Trump's latest remarks have gotten a lot of attention, because they appear to be so blunt. But the danger the Trump administration poses to programs that protect America's most vulnerable populations has been evident almost from the first.
Keep up to date with Michael Hiltzik. Follow @hiltzikm on Twitter, see his Facebook page or email michael.hiltzik


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Friday, January 17, 2020

Something to Know - 17 January

This is NUMBER THREE for today.   No introduction is necessary.  Just read it' it's all there. My thanks to Andy Gordon who brought this to my attention. I have not made any attempt to remove the ads or other distractions:

'You're a bunch of dopes and babies': Inside Trump's stunning tirade against generals

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President Trump speaks to reporters Monday as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)President Trump speaks to reporters Monday as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Jan. 17, 2020 at 3:00 a.m. PST

This article is adapted from "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America," which will be published on Jan. 21 by Penguin Press.

There is no more sacred room for military officers than 2E924 of the Pentagon, a windowless and secure vault where the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet regularly to wrestle with classified matters. Its more common name is "the Tank." The Tank resembles a small corporate boardroom, with a gleaming golden oak table, leather swivel armchairs and other mid-century stylings. Inside its walls, flag officers observe a reverence and decorum for the wrenching decisions that have been made there.

Hanging prominently on one of the walls is The Peacemakers, a painting that depicts an 1865 Civil War strategy session with President Abraham Lincoln and his three service chiefs — Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter. One hundred fifty-­two years after Lincoln hatched plans to preserve the Union, President Trump's advisers staged an intervention inside the Tank to try to preserve the world order.


By that point, six months into his administration, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump's knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike.

Trump organized his unorthodox worldview under the simplistic banner of "America First," but Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn feared his proposals were rash, barely considered, and a danger to America's superpower standing. They also felt that many of Trump's impulsive ideas stemmed from his lack of familiarity with U.S. history and, even, where countries were located. To have a useful discussion with him, the trio agreed, they had to create a basic knowledge, a shared language.

Trump on Mattis: 'President Obama fired him and... so did I'
President Trump spoke about his former defense secretary at a Cabinet meeting Jan. 2, saying he was not "too happy" with how Jim Mattis handled Afghanistan. (The Washington Post)

So on July 20, 2017, Mattis invited Trump to the Tank for what he, Tillerson, and Cohn had carefully organized as a tailored tutorial. What happened inside the Tank that day crystallized the commander in chief's berating, derisive and dismissive manner, foreshadowing decisions such as the one earlier this month that brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran. The Tank meeting was a turning point in Trump's presidency. Rather than getting him to appreciate America's traditional role and alliances, Trump began to tune out and eventually push away the experts who believed their duty was to protect the country by restraining his more dangerous impulses.


The episode has been documented numerous times, but subsequent reporting reveals a more complete picture of the moment and the chilling effect Trump's comments and hostility had on the nation's military and national security leadership.

Just before 10 a.m. on a scorching summer Thursday, Trump arrived at the Pentagon. He stepped out of his motorcade, walked along a corridor with portraits honoring former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, and stepped inside the Tank. The uniformed officers greeted their commander in chief. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. sat in the seat of honor midway down the table, because this was his room, and Trump sat at the head of the table facing a projection screen. Mattis and the newly confirmed deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, sat to the president's left, with Vice President Pence and Tillerson to his right. Down the table sat the leaders of the military branches, along with Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was in the outer ring of chairs with other staff, taking his seat just behind Mattis and directly in Trump's line of sight.

Mattis, Cohn, and Tillerson and their aides decided to use maps, graphics, and charts to tutor the president, figuring they would help keep him from getting bored. Mattis opened with a slide show punctuated by lots of dollar signs. Mattis devised a strategy to use terms the impatient president, schooled in real estate, would appreciate to impress upon him the value of U.S. investments abroad. He sought to explain why U.S. troops were deployed in so many regions and why America's safety hinged on a complex web of trade deals, alliances, and bases across the globe.


An opening line flashed on the screen, setting the tone: "The post-war international rules-based order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation." Mattis then gave a 20-minute briefing on the power of the NATO alliance to stabilize Europe and keep the United States safe. Bannon thought to himself, "Not good. Trump is not going to like that one bit." The internationalist language Mattis was using was a trigger for Trump.

"Oh, baby, this is going to be f---ing wild," Bannon thought. "If you stood up and threatened to shoot [Trump], he couldn't say 'postwar rules-based international order.' It's just not the way he thinks."

For the next 90 minutes, Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn took turns trying to emphasize their points, pointing to their charts and diagrams. They showed where U.S. personnel were positioned, at military bases, CIA stations, and embassies, and how U.S. deployments fended off the threats of terror cells, nuclear blasts, and destabilizing enemies in places including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Korea Peninsula, and Syria. Cohn spoke for about 20 minutes about the value of free trade with America's allies, emphasizing how he saw each trade agreement working together as part of an overall structure to solidify U.S. economic and national security.


Trump appeared peeved by the schoolhouse vibe but also allergic to the dynamic of his advisers talking at him. His ricocheting attention span led him to repeatedly interrupt the lesson. He heard an adviser say a word or phrase and then seized on that to interject with his take. For instance, the word "base" prompted him to launch in to say how "crazy" and "stupid" it was to pay for bases in some countries.

Trump's first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection.

"We should charge them rent," Trump said of South Korea. "We should make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything."


Trump proceeded to explain that NATO, too, was worthless. U.S. generals were letting the allied member countries get away with murder, he said, and they owed the United States a lot of money after not living up to their promise of paying their dues.

"They're in arrears," Trump said, reverting to the language of real estate. He lifted both his arms at his sides in frustration. Then he scolded top officials for the untold millions of dollars he believed they had let slip through their fingers by allowing allies to avoid their obligations.

"We are owed money you haven't been collecting!" Trump told them. "You would totally go bankrupt if you had to run your own business."

(Penguin Press)(Penguin Press)

Mattis wasn't trying to convince the president of anything, only to explain and provide facts. Now things were devolving quickly. The general tried to calmly explain to the president that he was not quite right. The NATO allies didn't owe the United States back rent, he said. The truth was more complicated. NATO had a nonbinding goal that members should pay at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their defenses. Only five of the countries currently met that goal, but it wasn't as if they were shorting the United States on the bill.


More broadly, Mattis argued, the NATO alliance was not serving only to protect western Europe. It protected America, too. "This is what keeps us safe," Mattis said. Cohn tried to explain to Trump that he needed to see the value of the trade deals. "These are commitments that help keep us safe," Cohn said.

Bannon interjected. "Stop, stop, stop," he said. "All you guys talk about all these great things, they're all our partners, I want you to name me now one country and one company that's going to have his back."

Trump then repeated a threat he'd made countless times before. He wanted out of the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama had struck in 2015, which called for Iran to reduce its uranium stockpile and cut its nuclear program.

"It's the worst deal in history!" Trump declared.

"Well, actually . . .," Tillerson interjected.


"I don't want to hear it," Trump said, cutting off the secretary of state before he could explain some of the benefits of the agreement. "They're cheating. They're building. We're getting out of it. I keep telling you, I keep giving you time, and you keep delaying me. I want out of it."

Before they could debate the Iran deal, Trump erupted to revive another frequent complaint: the war in Afghanistan, which was now America's longest war. He demanded an explanation for why the United States hadn't won in Afghanistan yet, now 16 years after the nation began fighting there in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a "loser war." That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief's commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

"You're all losers," Trump said. "You don't know how to win anymore."


Trump questioned why the United States couldn't get some oil as payment for the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. "We spent $7 trillion; they're ripping us off," Trump boomed. "Where is the f---ing oil?"

Trump seemed to be speaking up for the voters who elected him, and several attendees thought they heard Bannon in Trump's words. Bannon had been trying to persuade Trump to withdraw forces by telling him, "The American people are saying we can't spend a trillion dollars a year on this. We just can't. It's going to bankrupt us."

"And not just that, the deplorables don't want their kids in the South China Sea at the 38th parallel or in Syria, in Afghanistan, in perpetuity," Bannon would add, invoking Hillary Clinton's infamous "basket of deplorables" reference to Trump supporters.

Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. "I don't think he knows how to win," the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.

Dunford tried to come to Nicholson's defense, but the mild-mannered general struggled to convey his points to the irascible president.

"Mr. President, that's just not . . .," Dunford started. "We've been under different orders."

Dunford sought to explain that he hadn't been charged with annihilating the enemy in Afghanistan but was instead following a strategy started by the Obama administration to gradually reduce the military presence in the country in hopes of training locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out. Trump shot back in more plain language.

"I want to win," he said. "We don't win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we're not winning anymore."

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn't taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

"I wouldn't go to war with you people," Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, "You're a bunch of dopes and babies."

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called "locker room talk," this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. "How does the commander in chief say that?" one thought. "What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?"

This was a president who had been labeled a "draft dodger" for avoiding service in the Vietnam War under questionable circumstances. Trump was a young man born of privilege and in seemingly perfect health: six feet two inches with a muscular build and a flawless medical record. He played several sports, including football. Then, in 1968 at age 22, he obtained a diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that exempted him from military service just as the United States was drafting men his age to fulfill massive troop deployments to Vietnam.

Tillerson in particular was stunned by Trump's diatribe and began visibly seething. For too many minutes, others in the room noticed, he had been staring straight, dumbfounded, at Mattis, who was speechless, his head bowed down toward the table. Tillerson thought to himself, "Gosh darn it, Jim, say something. Why aren't you saying something?"

But, as he would later tell close aides, Tillerson realized in that moment that Mattis was genetically a Marine, unable to talk back to his commander in chief, no matter what nonsense came out of his mouth.

The more perplexing silence was from Pence, a leader who should have been able to stand up to Trump. Instead, one attendee thought, "He's sitting there frozen like a statue. Why doesn't he stop the president?" Another recalled the vice president was "a wax museum guy." From the start of the meeting, Pence looked as if he wanted to escape and put an end to the president's torrent. Surely, he disagreed with Trump's characterization of military leaders as "dopes and babies," considering his son, Michael, was a Marine first lieutenant then training for his naval aviator wings. But some surmised Pence feared getting crosswise with Trump. "A total deer in the headlights," recalled a third attendee.

Others at the table noticed Trump's stream of venom had taken an emotional toll. So many people in that room had gone to war and risked their lives for their country, and now they were being dressed down by a president who had not. They felt sick to their stomachs. Tillerson told others he thought he saw a woman in the room silently crying. He was furious and decided he couldn't stand it another minute. His voice broke into Trump's tirade, this one about trying to make money off U.S. troops.

"No, that's just wrong," the secretary of state said. "Mr. President, you're totally wrong. None of that is true."

Tillerson's father and uncle had both been combat veterans, and he was deeply proud of their service.

"The men and women who put on a uniform don't do it to become soldiers of fortune," Tillerson said. "That's not why they put on a uniform and go out and die . . . They do it to protect our freedom."

There was silence in the Tank. Several military officers in the room were grateful to the secretary of state for defending them when no one else would. The meeting soon ended and Trump walked out, saying goodbye to a group of servicemen lining the corridor as he made his way to his motorcade waiting outside. Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn were deflated. Standing in the hall with a small cluster of people he trusted, Tillerson finally let down his guard.

"He's a f---ing moron," the secretary of state said of the president.

The plan by Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn to train the president to appreciate the internationalist view had clearly backfired.

"We were starting to get out on the wrong path, and we really needed to have a course correction and needed to educate, to teach, to help him understand the reason and basis for a lot of these things," said one senior official involved in the planning. "We needed to change how he thinks about this, to course correct. Everybody was on board, 100 percent agreed with that sentiment. [But] they were dismayed and in shock when not only did it not have the intended effect, but he dug in his heels and pushed it even further on the spectrum, further solidifying his views."

A few days later, Pence's national security adviser, Andrea Thompson, a retired Army colonel who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq, reached out to thank Tillerson for speaking up on behalf of the military and the public servants who had been in the Tank. By September 2017, she would leave the White House and join Tillerson at Foggy Bottom as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs.

The Tank meeting had so thoroughly shocked the conscience of military leaders that they tried to keep it a secret. At the Aspen Security Forum two days later, longtime NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell asked Dunford how Trump had interacted during the Tank meeting. The Joint Chiefs chairman misleadingly described the meeting, skipping over the fireworks.

"He asked a lot of hard questions, and the one thing he does is question some fundamental assumptions that we make as military leaders — and he will come in and question those," Dunford told Mitchell on July 22. "It's a pretty energetic and an interactive dialogue."

One victim of the Tank meeting was Trump's relationship with Tillerson, which forever after was strained. The secretary of state came to see it as the beginning of the end. It would only worsen when news that Tillerson had called Trump a "moron" was first reported in October 2017 by NBC News.

President Trump walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One on Jan. 9. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)President Trump walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One on Jan. 9. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)


Trump once again gathered his generals and top diplomats in December 2017 for a meeting as part of the administration's ongoing strategy talks about troop deployments in Afghanistan in the Situation Room, a secure meeting room on the ground floor of the West Wing. Trump didn't like the Situation Room as much as the Pentagon's Tank, because he didn't think it had enough gravitas. It just wasn't impressive.

But there Trump was, struggling to come up with a new Afghanistan policy and frustrated that so many U.S. forces were deployed in so many places around the world. The conversation began to tilt in the same direction as it had in the Tank back in July.

"All these countries need to start paying us for the troops we are sending to their countries. We need to be making a profit," Trump said. "We could turn a profit on this."

Dunford tried to explain to the president once again, gently, that troops deployed in these regions provided stability there, which helped make America safer. Another officer chimed in that charging other countries for U.S. soldiers would be against the law.

"But it just wasn't working," one former Trump aide recalled. "Nothing worked."

Following the Tank meeting, Tillerson had told his aides that he would never silently tolerate such demeaning talk from Trump about making money off the deployments of U.S. soldiers. Tillerson's father, at the age of 17, had committed to enlist in the Navy on his next birthday, wanting so much to serve his country in World War II. His great-uncle was a career officer in the Navy as well. Both men had been on his mind, Tillerson told aides, when Trump unleashed his tirade in the Tank and again when he repeated those points in the Situation Room in December.

"We need to get our money back," Trump told his assembled advisers.

That was it. Tillerson stood up. But when he did so, he turned his back to the president and faced the flag officers and the rest of the aides in the room. He didn't want a repeat of the scene in the Tank.

"I've never put on a uniform, but I know this," Tillerson said. "Every person who has put on a uniform, the people in this room, they don't do it to make a buck. They did it for their country, to protect us. I want everyone to be clear about how much we as a country value their service."

Tillerson's rebuke made Trump angry. He got a little red in the face. But the president decided not to engage Tillerson at that moment. He would wait to take him on another day.

Later that evening, after 8:00, Tillerson was working in his office at the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters, preparing for the next day. The phone rang. It was Dunford. The Joint Chiefs chairman's voice was unsteady with emotion. Dunford had much earlier joked with Tillerson that in past administrations the secretaries of state and Defense Department leaders wouldn't be caught dead walking on the same side of the street, for their rivalry was that fierce. But now, as both men served Trump, they were brothers joined against what they saw as disrespect for service members. Dunford thanked Tillerson for standing up for them in the Situation Room.

"You took the body blows for us," Dunford said. "Punch after punch. Thank you. I will never forget it."

President Trump delivers remarks on environmental regulations in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 9. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)President Trump delivers remarks on environmental regulations in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 9. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Tillerson, Dunford, and Mattis would not take those body blows for much longer. They failed to rein in Trump's impulses or to break through what they regarded as the president's stubborn, even dangerous insistence that he knew best. Piece by piece, the guardrails that had hemmed in the chaos of Trump's presidency crumpled.

In March 2018, Trump abruptly fired Tillerson while the secretary of state was halfway across the globe on a sensitive diplomatic mission to Africa to ease tensions caused by Trump's demeaning insults about African countries. Trump gave Tillerson no rationale for his firing, and afterward acted as if they were buddies, inviting him to come by the Oval Office to take a picture and have the president sign it. Tillerson never went.

Mattis continued serving as the defense secretary, but the president's sudden decision in December 2018 to withdraw troops from Syria and abandon America's Kurdish allies there — one the president soon reversed, only to remake 10 months later — inspired him to resign. Mattis saw Trump's desired withdrawal as an assault on a soldier's code. "He began to feel like he was becoming complicit," recalled one of the secretary's confidants.

The media interpretation of Mattis' resignation letter as a scathing rebuke of Trump's worldview brought the president's anger to a boiling point. Trump decided to remove Mattis two months ahead of the secretary's chosen departure date. His treatment of Mattis upset the secretary's staff. They decided to arrange the biggest clap out they could. The event was a tradition for all departing secretaries. They wanted a line of Pentagon personnel that stretched for a mile applauding Mattis as he left for the last time. It was going to be "yuge," staffers joked, borrowing from Trump's glossary.

But Mattis would not allow it.

"No, we are not doing that," he told his aides. "You don't understand the president. I work with him. You don't know him like I do. He will take it out on Shanahan and Dunford."

Dunford stayed on until September 2019, retiring at the conclusion of his four-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One of Dunford's first public acts after leaving office was to defend a military officer attacked by Trump, Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who testified in the House impeachment inquiry about his worries over Trump's conduct with Ukraine. Trump dismissed Vindman as a "Never Trumper," but Dunford stepped forward to praise the Purple Heart recipient as "a professional, competent, patriotic, and loyal officer. He has made an extraordinary contribution to the security of our nation."

By then, however, Trump had become a president entirely unrestrained. He had replaced his raft of seasoned advisers with a cast of enablers who executed his orders and engaged his obsessions. They saw their mission as telling the president yes


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson