The Moving Parts: The Walls Come Down around Trump

The other day (I forget which day it was, to be honest) I wondered aloud whether, as it became clear the walls were collapsing around Trump, he’d make a rash move to pay off his debts, perhaps to salvage something for his post-Presidenting life.

I’m not sure we’re quite at that point yet. But in recent days, a ton has happened it’s hard to make sense of.

This post doesn’t pretend to offer answers. I just want to write down everything I think is happening in one place — blogger’s prerogative, call it.

Mattis resigns, citing Trump’s fondness for authoritarians

The most alarming news is not that James Mattis resigned, but how he did so. In his resignation letter, he cited the importance of NATO, and China and Russia’s authoritarianism that leads them to promote their interest over that of their neighbors, America, and our allies, before he made it clear that Trump disagrees with Mattis in rejecting those authoritarian values.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America[,] and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. [my emphasis]

The precipitating event, though, was Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria.

Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.

One source says that Trump’s decision to close the Special Forces base in Syria is part of the problem.

The US is set to shut a special forces base in Syria that has been the subject of repeated Russian complaints, and that some US officials have cast as a key part of US efforts not just to defeat ISIS but to counter Iranian influence in the country.

Muhannad al-Talla, a rebel commander at al-Tanf, a US base near the Syrian border with Jordan, told BuzzFeed News that the base would see the withdrawal of the US troops who have trained and fought alongside rebels there.

I’m wondering if this base was involved in the shellacking of Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s mercenaries.

Another is Erdogan’s threat (or promise) to massacre our longstanding Kurdish allies.

Defense officials tell me Mattis went to the White House to discuss Syria & that he was livid after reading reports that Turkey’s Defense Minister threatened to kill US-backed Kurds & put them in ditches once the US withdrew. He was incensed at this notion of betrayal of an ally.

Effectively, it seems, Mattis told Trump, “it’s me or Vladimir Putin” … and Trump chose Putin.

Erdogan exercises leverage — or is he the messenger boy?

But it wasn’t exactly — or just — Putin that finally got Trump to deliver on the payback he started delivering 14 hours after polls closed in 2016. It was Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As I noted, Trump met with Erdogan in Argentina but not — after the Michael Cohen allocution made it clear Putin was enticing Trump with a Tower deal in 2016 — Putin.

Multiple reports say a call Trump had with Erdogan on Friday was the precipitating factor. Here’s a really alarming account of that call.

That leads me to wonder what leverage Turkey, specifically, has over Trump, such that he’d pull out of Syria in response to a threat to massacre the Kurds, which will make it easy for Turkey to massacre the Kurds.

And I have to believe Turkey’s ploy with the Jamal Khashoggi execution is part of it. Erdogan never gave a shit that the Saudis lured a dissident to their soil to dismember alive. Erdogan himself pursues such repression, even if he conducts it with a bit more cover.

Indeed, whatever Erdogan has over Trump also has him considering extraditing Fethullah Gulen to Turkey for what would certainly be similar treatment — the payoff Turkey was requesting back in December 2016 when Trump’s chosen National Security Advisor was still hiding that he had been an unregistered agent for Turkey.

Perhaps Turkey has proof not just implicating Mohammed bin Salman in the execution, but Jared Kushner in green-lighting it, or possibly even Trump?

Mueller’s moves toward endgame

It’s hard — particularly given comments from people like Nancy Pelosi — to separate all this from what feels like an approaching Mueller (attempted) endgame. The lead-up to Flynn’s aborted sentencing featured the following:

  • Flynn makes an ill-considered attack on the legitimacy of the Mueller probe
  • Emmet Sullivan orders the release of the documents with which Flynn was attempting to undercut Mueller
  • Sullivan orders the far more damning Flynn 302 that, among other things, reveals that Turkey and Russia both had compromising information on Trump and Flynn
  • DOJ indicts Flynn’s business partners for hiding how Turkey angled to force DOJ to extradite Gulen
  • At Flynn’s sentencing hearing, Sullivan emphasizes that Flynn had been an agent of Turkey while ostensibly working for Trump and mentions the word treason

Plus there’s evidence that Jared Kushner — who has been the boy plaything for all these ruthless players — probably tried to attack Flynn even while he was having a grocery store tabloid pimp the Saudis.

And it was revealed that the Mystery Appellant refusing to provide information to Mueller is a foreign-owned corporation, probably a Russian or Middle Eastern bank or sovereign wealth fund funneling money to Trump or Jared. The company appears to have asked for an en banc review today.

Mueller also asked for and got the House Intelligence Committee to release its transcript of Roger Stone’s testimony. The timing of this is the interesting thing: Mueller chose to do this when Republicans had to (and did) vote to expose Trump’s top political advisor to indictment. He could have waited, but didn’t. That suggests either he wanted Republican buy-in, or he needs the transcripts now, to finalize his case against Stone before Democrats take over in a few weeks.

The day after SSCI released materials on James Wolfe, he was indicted.

So things are moving to a head in the Mueller probe, and in a way that both Russia and Turkey may be implicated.

Matt Whitaker performs a headfake before taking the corrupt step he was hired to take

Then there was the news today on big dick toilet salesman Matt Whitaker. This morning, multiple outlets reported that DOJ had told Whitaker he didn’t have to recuse from the Mueller probe. After that became the headline, however, multiple outlets revealed that the truth was the opposite: an ethics advisor had told Whitaker he should recuse, and having heard that, Whitaker consulted a hand-picked committee that predictably told him not to.

Within days of the president’s announcement in early November that he had put Whitaker in the role on a temporary basis, Whitaker tapped a veteran U.S. attorney to become part of a four-person team of advisers on his new job, according to a senior Justice Department official. Their guidance included the question of whether Whitaker should recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation because of his past statements regarding that probe and because of his friendship with one of its witnesses, the official said.

Whitaker never asked Justice Department ethics officials for a formal recommendation, nor did he receive one, this official said.

However, after Whitaker met repeatedly with Justice Department ethics officials to discuss the facts and the issues under consideration, a senior ethics official told the group of advisers on Tuesday that it was a “close call” but that Whitaker should recuse himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the official said. Whitaker was not present at that meeting, they said.

Those four advisers, however, disagreed with the ethics determination and recommended to Whitaker the next day not to recuse, saying there was no precedent for that, and doing so now could create a bad precedent for future attorneys general.

That big dick toilet salesman Whitaker did this is not surprising.

That he chose to roll out this admission today is worth noting. One outlet reported that, up until today, Whitaker had not been briefed on the Mueller probe. Apparently, in the wake of a judge raising treason concerns after having reviewed Mike Flynn’s behavior, Whitaker has made the move to become Trump’s mole on the Mueller probe.

Update: BuzzFeed got a hold of the DOJ letter here. It makes it very clear Whitaker ignored advice to recuse.

Update: Marty Lederman notes that this letter fails to conduct a key part of the recusal analysis: why he would make a more appropriate supervisor for Mueller than Rod Rosenstein.

Trump prepares to shut down government

All this is happening as Trump prepares to shut down the government because Fox News laughed at him for getting pantsed by Nancy Pelosi.

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said the Democrats had won the showdown, and Trump had lost.

He launched into a tirade saying the president “loses, and the Democrats will win everything” based on his apparent decision to compromise with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Doocy said Trump’s defeat would not only risk his campaign commitment to build the wall, but also bring into question his electoral promises to curb the rest of the government’s spending.

In response, over the course of today, Trump told Republicans he’d veto any continuing resolution that didn’t include $5 billion for his steel slat wall, making it much more likely we’ll have a shutdown as Trump skedaddles to Mar-a-Lago to take calls from his authoritarian buddies.

This may be entirely unrelated. After all, Fox and Friends is Trump’s bubble, that’s the only place where he considers losses to matter, and after the truth that Pelosi had bested him started to seep through, the narcissist-in-chief had no choice but to make a rash demand that Republican politicians sacrifice their careers in deference to his tantrum.

Which is to say that this behavior is precisely what we should expect when a narcissist’s mirror tells his he has been bested by someone he must demean.

Or maybe it is related?

Putin — or someone else — is calling in receipts

As I’m thinking about these things, I keep thinking back to an argument I made in August. I argued that Putin had compromised Trump not with a pee tape, but by ensuring his people kept receipts every time Trump got sucked deeper and deeper into a deal with Russia.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

It has since become clear that not just Russia, but at least also Turkey and whatever bank is fighting a demand from Mueller that it turn over evidence of Trump’s graft, also have receipts.

Nevertheless, at the moment where it has become increasingly clear that Mueller knows much of whatever blackmail these partners have over Trump, Trump has chosen, instead, to alienate the Senators who might keep him from being impeached by evacuating from Syria and, later reports make clear, Afghanistan.

Trump is, on a dime and without warning to our closest allies, rolling up the American Empire. And he’s doing it not because he’s a peacenik — as far too many self-described progressives are trying to claim — but because ruthless, committed authoritarians have convinced him he needs their continued approval more than he needs the approval of even the Republican hawks in the Senate.

Update: I forgot to mention that the stock market is crashing. It started in response to Trump’s trade wars and bullying of the Fed, but accelerated given his threats to shut down the government.

155 replies
  1. Alan says:

    corrections (feel free to delete this post):

    wondered allowed -> wondered aloud

    bloggers prerogative -> bloggers’ prerogative

    Cohen allocation -> Cohen allocution

    Mueller knows…, he has chosen -> Mueller knows…, Trump has chosen

  2. Pat Neomi says:

    I haven’t read into the details surrounding it, but was the lifting of sanctions on Deripaska’s aluminum company part of this at all?

    • William Bennett says:

      I’ve been assuming so–hard not to see it in that light. FWIW I have seen a statement that the lifting of sanctions pertains to the company only, and not to Deripaska’s personal finances.

  3. Frank says:

    Trumps overlords are cashing in before his power is minimized by the Dems. and before the Mueller investigations comes to a close, which might be soon.

    • Kai-Lee says:

      Sure looks like it, though their various agreements are surely quae pro quibus, and probably ongoing. Most disturbed to read yesterday of linked Repub-Trump PAC and 2020 election campaign efforts, with Parscale at the helm, and combined resources of all kinds. 

      Re the DOJ letter concerning the ethics of the AAG and desirability of recusal, it is revelatory of a very sad state of affairs there. The legal interpretations even by the author (never mind Whitaker’s chosen posse of advisors) seem slipshod at best. But my interest was particularly piqued by mention that no previous AG or person in commensurate role had recused on the basis of public statements made in/to the media prior to taking office. That doesn’t really apply to nominee Bill Barr, does it, who as a former AG, took it upon himself to write a personal 20 page letter to the department, advising of the many supposed failings of the Special Counsel.

      Whitaker may not have been officially briefed on the Mueller investigation, but who doubts that he’s been feeding his master the goods for months now?

      Now, it seems he has officially “empowered” himself to actively supervise the Mueller investigation, and yet, this same day we were to be once again reassured by Rosenstein that Mueller continues under his purview. I confess I don’t “get” Rosenstein. He is truly a mixed bag. But I just operate under the assumption that Whitaker passes everything he can along to Daddy. Since that’s his raison d’etre, how could he but comply?

      • cheyanne says:

        Congress out of town, government shut down, Whitaker in place is the perfect set up for closing down the Mueller investigation.  What’s to stop Trump now?

  4. gedouttahear says:

    Yes, it is starting to look like even to the repug senators that t is more risk than benefit to them. A shutdown is gonna hurt their political prospects and his Syria withdrawal and possible Afghanistan withdrawal may give the repug senators a way to disown him without acknowledging how they have enabled him to date. Perhaps now that Mattis has resigned in protest — and a pretty scathing protest — they can follow his lead and at the same time wrap themselves in the flag. they are after all, great patriots.

    • Anon says:

      That is why Paul Ryan is leaving.  He is not “leaving politics” but getting out while he still can, and biding his time in the tall weeds till he can ride in as a party and fiscal savior once the fiscal and political crises he helped to create get blamed on others.

  5. J Barker says:

    Regarding Whitaker: if he plans to do any firing, obstructing, burying, or whatever– in addition to being Trump’s eyes and ears in the investigation — he probably needs to act now. The Barr confirmation process will move quickly, and we know Mueller’s indictment of Stone & co. is imminent.

    I’m also convinced the Corsi ethics complaint wasn’t a *mere* PR stunt, but was designed to give someone pretext to curtail the probe. And Whitaker, not Barr, seems like the perfect man for that job.

  6. Cory says:

    Monday’s indictments followed by Judge Sullivan telling Flynn he’s got more story to tell signaled to trump that he needs to repay his debts so the people who helped engineer his 2016 GE victory will provide plausible deniability once Mueller drops the hammer.

  7. pseudonymous in nc says:

    [deep exhale]

    As you say, he’s compromised by having compromised himself. The receipts are being kept. And as @nycsouthpaw says, trying to fathom the ‘why’ can sometimes mask the extent of the ‘what’. The actions by themselves show a willingness to compromise the republic to save his own ass.

    The DC Blob has a lot to answer for, but its motives are generally obvious.

    (Just thinking a little about the Sullivan timeline: he conceivably had access to the unredacted addendum and the other ex parte addendum as far back as December 12th, right? 48-1 and 48-2 on the [non-public] docket. So, before Flynn’s sentencing memo?)

    • emptywheel says:

      On Sullivan, yes, though DOJ kept adding stuff to the docket. But what significance does that have? You’re saying he wasn’t reacting to the sentencing memo but what he read in classified documents?

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        I’m just trying to reconstruct the sequence from the docket numbers.

        46 and 46-1 are the redacted SCO memo/addendum. 48 is the SCO’s motion to file unredacted 48-1 / 48-2 under seal; 49 is Flynn’s motion to file an unredacted memo under seal; 50 is the redacted Flynn memo. And then you get that flurry of minute orders from Sullivan on December 12th.

        So I’m not really offering anything new to your piece from when the minute order went out for the 302s, only that in hindsight Sullivan may have been stewing about Flynn’s conduct for nearly a week, and every new filing soured his mood more.

        (If we’re going deep into the rabbit hole and suspect there’s some kind of Whitaker pipeline from DOJ to the White House, the call with Erdogan about Syria happened on the 14th, a couple of days after the unredacted addenda went to Sullivan, and the indictment of Rafekian and Alptekin was filed under seal. I’m not yet willing to make that dive.)

    • BobCon says:

      During all of this, it’s worth keeping on eye on Netanyahu’s own possible legal peril. There may be another set of favors being called in/threats being made if he is indicted.

    • General Sternwood says:

      The Patrushev Paper had Iran withdrawing its influence from Syria as part of the quid pro quo. This week, the US is unilaterally withdrawing with no indication that Russia and Iran are doing anything in return.

      The US intelligence community must be coming to the conclusion that Trump is a foreign power’s marionette at this point. Being charged with preventing the country from coming under the control of a foreign power, I’m guessing tomorrow will be a big day for leaks.

  8. Reader_21 says:

    Re Deripaska—he absolutely fits in here, somehow. He was Manafort’s boss, and Manafort still owes him many millions (for which he’s sued in federal court)—that’s another guy Spanky definitely needs to keep happy.

  9. pseudonymous in nc says:

    A snippet of Josh Marshall’s metacommentary (paywalled, so I’m excerpting):

    This most basic level of transparency – knowing roughly the reasons why the government is doing the things its doing – is something Americans have mostly been able to take for granted. But today we can’t. And that has knock-on effects down the line of democratic self-government and accountability. If we don’t know why things are happening, whether they’re happening for plausible policy reasons or because of pay-offs or extortion or whims, we can’t properly react to them.

    I’d go one step further. After two years, we’re potentially on the brink of some kind of transparency, whether through Mueller’s investigation or a Dem-controlled House, when we’ve only seen it in brief snatches. We’re going to get too much fucking perspective on all that in the very near future, and the criminal psychopath running the country knows it.

  10. tryggth says:

    1) Wonder if today’s Whitaker story and MSNBC story about Feb. Mueller report are related. Can’t see Whitaker surviving into 3rd week of Jan.

    2) In light of events of last two days, your writing about Sullivan makes me think he stumbled on a tree name when exposed to the forrest. If Whitaker starts providing back channel info to Trump now that he will be briefed WH will start defensively prepping the battleground but also cause lots of new info to come out. Wonder if this is the current expectation in many quarters.

  11. Trip says:

    Things are so fucked.

    And the Republicans could end this shit RIGHT NOW. The government doesn’t have to shut down, they could fight Trump. Never forget McConnell covering for Trump’s ass in the lead up to the election. And all the others who pretend this is a healthy normal presidency to get their riches while they can. THEY are at fault. Trump could never make things so very fucked without them. They are doing this in concert with him.

  12. AA Bender says:

    Thanks for a great analysis as always. I appreciate the time you spend on this.

    With about 2 weeks until January 3rd, Trump is seemingly effecting a series of paybacks, quite suddenly, to a bunch of different foreign patrons–Putin, Turkey, Derispaska.

    Why now? Did they pressure him because they see his power waning?

    And does that mean that at this moment in history Trump is more afraid of his foreign patrons than he is of Mueller?

    Meanwhile Whitaker set himself in place for Trump. Is that why Trump is less afraid of Mueller?

    Like you, I have always believed that Trump’s weak underbelly was his love of lucre–writ large, that equals The Trump Organization. If Trump ever had to choose between his presidency and his money (i.e. his company), he would choose the latter.

    Therefore, Impeachment is a great way to poke the Trump bear, but it is not the way to get him to go away. Taking away his ill-gotten gain lucre-factory is.

  13. CaliLawyer says:

    As insane as all of this is, I still find the media/SuperPac angle more interesting from a purely legal angle. At the end of the day, Trump’s a garden variety crook, and I think the outlines of change on the Peridential indictment debate are taking shape. Lawfare had a good article today by (I think) Tribe.

    • timbo says:

      Garden variety crooks do not become President of the United States.

      Anyone watching Trump dispose of Rubio and Cruz in 90 seconds in one  GOP primary debate of in early 2016 would know that this guy knows how to turn other folks weaknesses right back on them when he, Trump, is under attack.  And much more effectively than a lot of politicians in Washington today.  He understands the power of media and putting people down in the media a lot better than most US politicians today.  Basically, he can verbally punch you hard when you think you’ve got a winning point.  GWB could also do this.  This is the difference between politicians who are intellectual and those who are “street fighters”.

      US mainstream political intellectuals typically only want to win a debating point and think that will stick if they do.  What they don’t understand is that is that only feels like winning when it comes to power politics… but it isn’t actually winning if your message is drowned out, or you are hoisted on your own petard when you make a valid point.  See the 2016 GOP primary debates and general election for further edification.

  14. new-radical says:

    Its late now on the eastern coast of the USA, but as I sit here in OZ I am cooking in the early afternoon, 34 degree heat, and feeling the pain of my friends in the USA.
    As a Complex Systems theorist, I can feel the energy and interconnections of the system (CAS) liven up and a phase transition will soon occur. But the system is capricious, we have no idea what the complex self-adapting system will deliver when the phase transition occurs.
    A gentle reminder. I hope the few who read this post will indulge me, but I should like to remind people of how and why we got to this position. Of course this is my take and I could be wrong!
    When WW2 ended there was only one winner! Every other nation lost, and paid.
    All the gold of the British Empire was in Fort Knox (I hope Mrs Mnuchin enjoyed looking at it all, I’m not sure she resonates much with the failed Welsh coal mining industry). The Empire was destroyed and so was Europe, the Middle and the Far East. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed. Go to Paris or Rome and you can still find the medieval city (they were only occupied). Go to London and you will find a modern city because the Luftwaffe bombed the fuck out of the old one and so the city planners could build a new city.
    The USA lost no infrastructure, instead they built the mighty manufacturing complex that dominated the next 50 years.
    And the USA had all the power and many decision makers were very smart. They had learned the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty and instead implemented the Marshall Plan in Europe and MacArthur was smart enough to let William Edwards Deming help rebuild Japan (that’s a long shot, but I wanted to get it in).
    The way the world currently works was set up by the nation that won. And it was set up for it’s benefit: UN, NATO, World Bank, IMF etc. etc…
    The whole point of NATO was that the US did not want any of the members to pay their share. FMD, Trump knows nothing of history. The whole point was that the USA would have the strongest military in the world. It would pay for the strongest military in the world so it could dominate the world, and that is what it has done, post WW2. The US did not want any other country (on it’s side) to have any ‘independent’ military strength. Its the same philosophy that the British took with their naval power in the preceding period. But all the NATO powers added up would massively strengthen the US. And all the arms would be bought from the US.
    In return for this, the USA would be the world’s policeman, the USA would protect the rest of us.
    That’s it, that’s my whole point!
    Trump has no clue that here in Oz we provide military bases for US warships and GI’s when ever required. We have the infrastructure that provides the electronic surveillance for the Eastern Hemisphere. But when the Chinese decide they need a bit more space, we will be (as Marcy sometimes says), fucked.
    The USA created the modern Western world (I am not making any philosophical claim) but moron Trump understands nothing of this… and the system is about to meet the destiny of a phase transition.
    Feel free to delete this post if I am out of order, I thought Marcy’s header on this thread gave me cover.

    • Rusharuse says:

      Trump as agent of change – or accelerator of change? As the good ship Pax Americana sinks bow first into the Atlantic/Pacific you OZers better be quick, put another shrimp on the barbie and neck a couple of Fosters cos the Asian horde will soon be upon you.

      But, but, ANZUS you say! . . What the fuck is that?

      • new-radical says:

        Ha Ha – that stupid ad was hilarious (Crocodile Dundee indeed), I have a plate of giant ‘prawns’ in the fridge and have just opened a bottle of really good Barossa Shiraz – you gotta love capitalism. So, by my own rules I can post no more, “eight hours bottle to throttle”.

        I think Trump recently claimed that he didn’t care about the deficit because he would not be around for it’s effect.

        I’m about the same, I’m pissed because I may not be around to find out the punch line – so I am determined to out-live Trump. If we go down (I don’t include Trump), it will be together. I shall be on the front deck ensuring that no women or children will be allowed in the life boats because that will only extend their misery.

        Thanks for the laugh. In reality, you people are robust and you will pull us all through. When the phase transition occurs and we come out the other side, let’s share a virtual glass!

    • William Bennett says:

      Legal term of art. IANAL but as I understand it it basically refers to whatever it is they’re holding, and that he knows they’re holding, to secure payment for services rendered.

  15. HighDesertWizard says:

    Great post, emptywheel, as always…

    About the Mattis resignation is this, our drama…

    Wasn’t there an exchange of information between two government institutions today?

    Defense : Fundamental damage will be done if this goes on too much longer.

    SCO : Hold on until mid-February.

  16. Rapier says:

    It’s incredibly tempting to construct a narrative about the direction of the stock market on any day or days as being caused by specific news events. Events that happen to be in  the interest of the narrator or otherwise picked by the narrator because people expect to hear some cause. How many times have you heard “stocks rose today as”, or worse “because”, blah blah blah, some event.

    That is how the human mind works. Constructing narratives of causation based upon any damn thing that is on the mind of the narrator.  Consider that markets rise and fall on liquidity, ie. money,  and the liquidity provided by central banks most of all via the expansion or contraction of their balance sheets.  In December last year the Fed began to reverse the greatest expansion of its balance sheet by several orders of magnitude greater than ever before. It is now shrinking its balance sheet. Liquidity is falling.

    I suggest turning ones thinking around. Trump was the result of the wild 9 year expansion of Central bank provided liquidity.  His downfall will likely be coincident with the deflation of asset prices that is inevitable as liquidity falls. (Nixon’s downfall was coincident with the roiling of the world economy as the post WWII monetary system of fixed exchange rates based upon gold collapsed)

    • Anon says:

      I don’t agree with you about Nixon but I do agree that reading too much into Mr. Market is a problem.  In reality if the traders simply take a day off, or move a little slow (perhaps because they are distracted by news), then “the market” will go down.  And, as you note, a number of things are unwinding that are causing real problems irrespective of Trump.  After all the Fed’s free money policy was mostly read as a free debt policy and as a consequence US Banks are sitting on massive piles of corporate debt from leveraged share buybacks.  Those bills are coming due and thanks to the rising interest rates, they are coming due with extra pain on the side.

      If Mr. Market was fat and happy Trump *might* have an easier time but he would still be facing a reckoning.  Now… ugliness abounds.

  17. Pat Neom says:

    “Trump is, on a dime and without warning to our closest allies, rolling up the American Empire. And he’s doing it not because he’s a peacenik — as far too many self-described progressives are trying to claim — but because ruthless, committed authoritarians have convinced him he needs their continued approval more than he needs the approval of even the Republican hawks in the Senate.”

    I understand the desire to laud an action that is maybe worthwhile, per se. That is to say, to laud having done something right for the wrong reasons. The last time I recall feeling this was when the media was frothing about how unconscionable it was that Trump was meeting with Kim Jong Un without precondition (even though Obama said he would do the same) to attempt to deescalate US-DPRK tensions. It was clear Trump was doing this for his own ego (in pursuit of matching Obama’s Nobel maybe?), but the reasons why he was doing it did not necessarily negate the potential benefits that COULD have materialized (it obviously didn’t work out that way, and you could argue it was clear that was always the case, but that doesn’t preclude it still potentially being a worthwhile endeavor).

    The goings-on with Syria, however, reek of corrupt intent. While I am wont to agree that the rolling up of America’s imperial reach is a just goal, in this case, you can’t claim right thing, wrong reason. It is interminably tainted by the stench of its venal/extortionary underpinnings.

    Perhaps I am thinking too myopically, but this seems a higher order of ‘wrong reason.’

    • BobCon says:

      I can’t say with 100% certainty, but most likely Mueller’s team is not affected. The conditions for a shutdown exempt a lot of government activities considered vital, and law enforcement and prosecution is one area that gets to keep chugging along. Long term, there is the potential for problems, along the lines of the way that fuel for Air Force One and MREs for active duty troops are at risk, but that’s a ways off.

      • Trip says:

        Don’t they get budget approvals for bulks of time? I remember this being addressed where people thought Whitaker could cut them off immediately, but they are budgeted amounts per project or maybe quarterly, but I don’t think they have a weekly payroll gig. Although I could be wrong. Mueller also seems like the type who’d keep on going without a paycheck, when it involves something as serious as this. He’s a bloodhound, who won’t give up the scent, even without a bone.

        • Drew says:

          I don’t know the answer to which government functions stay open during a shutdown, but the precipitating factor of a shutdown has nothing to do with budget, it has to do with borrowing authority.  So it doesn’t matter whether you have a valid ongoing budget approval-the government can’t pay the bill so it says, stop working, we’re not going to pay you. Frequently, these resolutions get bs budget stuff attached, like Trump’s wall, but the actual problem is a law that prevents USG borrowing exceeding a certain amount without congressional approval.


    • Laura says:

      Nah.   ‘Partial’ really does mean partial, especially early in the shutdown. Carryover funds from the previous FY can keep some programs coasting for a few weeks (assuming one’s branch chief didn’t go on a spending spree to burn through FY funding lines in September, that is).

      The people who are most impacted are the ones who really can least afford it – admin staff, cleaners, cafeteria workers. A shutdown is a *terrible* thing to do already-underpaid service/support personnel in federal agencies –  and Congress gets its paycheck, so what does Mark Meadows care?  Asshole.

      Anyway, much as Trump might wish a that shutdown would lock Mueller out of his DOJ office, I seriously doubt that Mueller’s team will sidetracked by this stunt.

  18. cw says:

    I think sometime soon now Russia is going to escalate things in Ukraine, and maybe other places. This (and Brexit) is the perfect opportunity. Almost impossible for the west to mount any resistance. This is what all the chaos creation is for.

  19. pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Reader_21: regulars will be aware that there’s potentially a Deripaska connection to the Bloody Dossier as well.

  20. Troutwaxer says:

    Trump is pulling 7000 blooded veterans out of Afghanistan, and 2000 blooded veterans out of Syria. Is he playing Putin’s game, or does he have some other plan for those soldiers?

  21. Kick the darkness says:

    If you were the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, I wonder what scenarios might be playing through your head tonight.

  22. skua says:

    emptywheel wrote “As I noted, Trump met with Erdogan in Argentina but not — …. — Putin. ”

    This is accurate in as much as Trump did not have a formal meeting with Putin, as that meeting Trump cancelled.

    They did have a quick chat according to media reports.

  23. rodomer says:

    Could that mysterious corporation be Deutsche Bank? Could look quite like a crossroad between Russian oligarchs, the Orange Tan monkey in the White House and distant shore islands

  24. Eureka says:

    It’s all just too momentous, the way things are going down right now. The way Trump is taking down the world with him. I guess we all anticipated that with various gallows humors and moments of circumspection but it’s scary right in front of us.

  25. Erandall says:

    Momentous is the right word. We’re at the point where many many individuals have to decide if they will obey unmistakably corrupt and unlawful orders and instructions, from people who are ‘far above’ them in the hierarchy/chain of command. What can officials do when those in ‘charge’ threaten to or actually do engage in acts that clearly undermine the core purpose as well as the future of the institution that employs them? An AG who attempts to suborn the entire DoJ is surely a ‘leader’ who isn’t entitled to the loyalty or the obedience of employees, who would otherwise be expected to follow their orders.

  26. Bay State Librul says:

    …Russia committed an Act of War on the United States using Cyber Warfare and giving aid is an act of Treason. If you think we’re not at War you’ve missed the whole story. You do know Conspiracy is part of the equation right. We are at War for the very survival of Democracy – Lawrence Tribe

    Do we dare call it treason?

    • Krista says:

      Thank you for this comment. I’ve been saying the same thing to family members for two years now any time the debate of Trump being treasonous or not comes up. Cyber war is still war, circumventing our fair election process is a form of war. Giving aid to anyone involved in these acts of war is treason. I guess since it’s not the type of war showcased on movies with guns, tanks, fighter jets or horrendous images of field wounds along with horrible stories of war crimes and prisoners of war people do not see it as warfare. There is more than one way to perform war and we are witnessing one. I applauded Judge Sullivan for bringing up the possibility of treason.

      • bmaz says:

        That is wrong in every regard. Those things are not “war” within the definition pertinent to a treason consideration. And Judge Sullivan should not be applauded for his asinine comments, in fact he should be censured for them.

      • BobCon says:

        (This is not snarky, but it’s hard to convey the tone in flat text)

        Do you have a better term that works in colloquial English? I understand the aversion to the term treason, but I’m not sure I have the right alternative.

        • Ken Muldrew says:

          Treison (middle English). Since the word stopped being used before the U.S. existed, it can’t possibly be confused with any legal definitions under U.S. law. It means what people wish “treason” could be used to describe.

        • Troutwaxer says:

          The founding fathers were very reluctant to prosecute anyone for Treason, and there was very good reason for this, as they had experience of countries where merely making the wrong suggestion to the sovereign resulted in a charge of treason. The U.S. has very intelligently followed that practice now for a couple centuries and I’m glad that the practice continues.

          So let me make the following fine distinction. The behavior of Trump and his cohort does not fit the legal definition of Treason. But it was sure as hell treasonous!

        • Boikley says:

          Whenever I run across this problem, I just substitute “treachery.” Not such a precise term, but it allows me to keep reading–instead of working! IANAL, glad other people are. Incredible site, thank you.

          • CCM says:

            I am a non-lawyer, so take this as the impressions of a member of the general public. This is treason. Treason. Benedict Arnold sold out our country in the revolution. Did he meet the legal definition of treason? Under what legal definition or legal authority? There was no constitution and we had declared independence but until victory were an overseas territory of the British.

            We are and have been at war with the Russians. We just killed aprox 200 Russian soldiers in Syria (mercenaries, please, just a matter of uniform). Cold war ended? Not in Putins mind and in his speeches. Trading with the Russian for help to get elected  and the Moscow tower for sanctions relief and geopolitical strategy realignment makes surrendering West Point seem tame. Sometimes the law and common sense diverge. I believe history will judge Trump as committing treason. I would not be surprised if his endgame is political asylum in Russia in his tower.

            • bmaz says:

              Please. Seriously. Stop. It is NOT “treason”. Any time you think you might even remotely want to invoke that loaded term, stop and think “are we in a physical shooting war with the other country”? If the answer, as it obviously is here, is NO, then do not say you “think” it is treason. Thank you.

        • Diviz says:

          Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a single, concise word that is both technically correct and also has the gravitas of “treason”. From EW on Monday:

          While not explicitly stated, the reference to Mike Flynn throughout the indictment as Person A — the only unindicted co-conspirator so identified — makes it clear that the government believes that’s what Flynn was doing, acting as an agent of Turkey.

          So he’d be a [co-]conspirator, and the best single word might be some derivation of ConFraudUS. ConFraudUSer? ConFraudUSician? ConFraudUSeur? ConFraudUSator?

      • uppercut says:

        Initially got a good belly rub over someone finally going after one of the bad guys in this conspiracy, but it was the wrong setting at the wrong time. In his zeal against authorities abusing power, Sullivan abused his own. Had to be a better way to salve his concerns.

        The parties had an agreement built over 5 proffer sessions and Flynn held up his end. The effect now is people questioning Mueller and his team’s judgement which is simply unacceptable. We have enough arseholes going after SC already.

        bmaz  Question is, what does Mueller do now? Submit more evidence of cooperation or did they already give it all to the judge? What to do with Flynn?

        • bmaz says:

          I think probably yes. All parties get a good long time out to chill out,and leave that smoldering mess in the mirror. Sullivan still likely to be after Flynn a little, but I expect a MUCH different proceeding the next time.

    • Lee says:

      Here’s a thought experiment:  Person A provides classified information to the Japanese the day before the Pearl Harbor attack, allowing them to target military installations with higher precision than they could otherwise.  War on Japan in then declared by the US.  Person A then provides Japan with more classified information to enable another attack elsewhere.

      My question is:  Is the pre-war-declaration crime different in any morally relevant way from the post-war-declaration crime?  I would argue there is no moral difference, and any legal differences are hair-splitting technicalities.  When Japan was preparing for the Pearl Harbor assault it was arguably an enemy, and Person A was adhering and giving aid to that enemy.   While war had not yet been declared, the attack that prompted that declaration of war was facilitated by Person A, and then furthered by Person A in the next act of sharing classified information.

      As I read the Constitution’s definition of treason, I wonder why, if a formal state of war is an absolute prerequisite for commission of treason, there is the second definition (aid to an enemy) which doesn’t explicitly mention war.  And I wonder how it is possible that two arguably morally equivalent acts could be treated as legally nonequivalent.

      I understand the concept of treason — a serious act against the country of one’s allegiance, taken in concert with an enemy systematically trying to do serious harm to, or altogether destroy, that country, an act that could justly merit the death penalty.  Could such an act be determined to have taken place or not to have taken place based on such a technicality as whether there has been a declaration of war?  Especially in our day and age when a declaration of war is nearly unthinkable (both with the polarization which exists in Congress, and the fact that such a declaration would arguably lead to the destruction of human civilization), and attacks practically take different forms, including a program of mass disinformation aimed at placing the enemy’s own agent in the target country’s highest position of power.

      Sorry for the length of this post.  IANAL (as if that’s not already clear), but I have a professional grounding in logic and evidence, and don’t understand at all the assertion that formal war is a prerequisite for the crime of treason to occur.  This is an honest question.

        • Troutwaxer says:

          Sorry, but I’d like to try a different hypothetical. At 8:00 am on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. At 9:00 am on the same date, DT gives Tojo some crucial information about the U.S. Military. At 10:00 am, Congress declares war.

          Can DT be charged with Treason? That is, once a war is declared, can treason bec backdated to the point where the first shot in that particular war is fired? And if so, what would be a reasonable time limit? What if Congress took a month to declare war? Or a year? Or ten years on a particular casus belli?

          • bmaz says:

            This has been asked and answered previously with other absurd hypotheticals. The answers stand. And if you think that law ought to change because of emotion and outrage, I really do not know what to say. That is NOT what this country, and its rule of law, is built on.

            But you and the others, by all means, ought to press on in trying to make American criminal law more about personal emotion than actual continuing and appropriate law, while Trump is completely trying to do the same. Naw, I will not ever join in that bullshit. Sorry.

            • Troutwaxer says:

              I’m going to assume, unless you correct me, that the answer is “no.”

              But I’m not particularly emotional about it, and I don’t want Trump charged with Treason – as I noted above, our founding fathers had very good reasons for writing the Constitution as they did – but I am irredeemably curious about where the limits are, and I think the fine distinctions are important.

          • Diviz says:

            The exact dates of formal declarations of war by the US Congress do matter. There was much congressional debate before the Mexican-American War declaration (including by a young Abe Lincoln) about whether the war started at the point of Mexican aggression, Polk’s request for a declaration of war, or Congress’s formal declaration.

            In a more bold example of the legal significance of the exact date of a declaration of war, the Spanish-American War declaration was expressly backdated by four days. Within that period Spanish merchant vessels were captured by the US blockade of Cuba. The owners of one such vessel, The Pedro, appealed the decree of condemnation that would transfer her to the Navy Department but the court upheld that it was legally a “prize of war.”

            And by the Act of Congress of April 25, it was declared that war had existed since the 21st day of April.  Being an enemy’s vessel, the Pedro was liable to capture as lawful prize unless exempted therefrom by the terms of the proclamation of April 26.

            The Pedro, 175 U.S. 354 (1899)


        • Lee says:

          Okay, I found an answer to my own question in this essay:

          Relevant text:  “Nations with whom we are formally at peace, such as Russia, are not enemies. (Indeed, a treason prosecution naming Russia as an enemy would be tantamount to a declaration of war.) Russia is a strategic adversary whose interests are frequently at odds with those of the United States, but for purposes of treason law it is no different than Canada or France …”

          If an indictment for treason would be tantamount to declaration of war, that is pretty good reason not to use such an indictment outside the context of war.  This makes more sense to me now.

          BTW Thanks Marcy et al for all your good work!

          • bmaz says:

            Lee – I think that link was in a previous answer to PJ, whether in this thread, or one very close too it. But, yes, that was very close to legally accurate. None of this is easy, but we can try to be accurate. Hopefully we do here.

          • timbo says:

            Thanks.  I had to stop a relative from going on and on about “treason” the other day.  Wish I’d had that link at WP to point them at.

  27. Tom says:

    Difficult to imagine the mentality that would pay heed to the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh (who are basically in the entertainment business) and spurn the advice of General Mattis. Very unsettling.

  28. Tracy says:

    Thanks so much, Marcy! You always help us make sense of all these nefarious happenings in the best way. Love your reporting! Glad to see you this week w/ Chris Hayes, too, one of my favs. :-D

    • BobCon says:

      I’m thinking it stretches further back and is more damaging. The Turks are in the middle of everything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is something like evidence of the Trump team double crossing Russia. Double crossing another player in the Kushner conspiracy is another one — I can see Turkey knowing that Kushner did something to undermine Netanyahu at the request of the Saudis, or Trump telling Flynn to screw over the Saudis for some arbitrary reason to benefit the UAE. Financial and military support for factions of ISIS is another one that I can imagine, or just run of the mill money laundering.

      • Willis Warren says:

        While I’m sure all of that happened, the Turks may or may not know.   The Kashoggi information, though, is something we can point to and say “hmmm, why the fuck are they pretending they care about this guy?”  The not so obvious answer is that they’re sending a message to dumbass.

      • timbo says:

        Fact is, we don’t know what the Turks have and don’t have, at least not us US public folks.   What we do know is that what is happening is not the old normal for US diplomacy.  And it’s been awkward since the Bush II regime’s ill-advised involving of us in Iraq directly…or earlier, etc.

  29. Sharon says:

    Wow! That reads like one of Bob Palmer’s daily headlines. It has a lot more clout when it comes from Marcy Wheeler.

  30. Michael says:

    “Update: I forgot to mention that the stock market is crashing.”

    My largest little piece of it sure is: down, down, down since early October, by ~30%. The “scared little girls” who run Wall Street are doing their thing.

  31. Firenza says:

    Maybe this is small potatoes with everything else you wrote about, but his foundation also shuttered this week. Another wall falling down, and also gets to your point about his company being indicted soon. That might also be accelerating Trump’s time table here.

  32. Trip says:

    Willis Warren says:
    December 21, 2018 at 8:03 am

    My guess is they have conversations about it from the Saudis and can document it all back to the transition. I bet Gina Haspell knows, too

    I completely agree Willis.

    As an aside, I wonder how much dear old dad is implicated legally, too. Remember he was doing his own freelance ‘diplomacy’ in Qatar?

    • Eureka says:

      Aside aside, Cohen and Rudy up in that Qatari business:

      Foreign Agent Registration Act filings disclosed last week another link between Mr. Cohen and Qatar: Steve Ryan, an attorney who has been representing Mr. Cohen since mid-June of 2017.

      In a June 30 letter to the Qatari ambassador, Mr. Ryan and a colleague at his law firm, McDermott Will & Emery, wrote that they would be “principally responsible” for lobbying on behalf of the Gulf state, including “establishing and conducting liaison with executive branch officials and members of Congress.” Qatar agreed to pay the firm $40,000 a month starting on July 1.

      About two months later, on Aug. 31, Mr. Ryan terminated his registration on behalf of Qatar, according to a FARA filing. When asked for comment for this article, Mr. Ryan referred to the termination of his FARA registration as evidence that he had ended the engagement. A law-firm representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

      Mr. Cohen wasn’t the only Trump associate to meet with the Qataris on their Florida visit. At a second reception held on April 7 in honor of the Qatari emir, Rudy Giuliani—a lawyer whose consulting firm has worked for Qatar—mingled with other business executives and investors in attendance, according to people familiar with the event.

      Mr. Giuliani joined the president’s legal team less than two weeks later.

      (Internal link removed)

      What I quoted isn’t even the main focus of the article.  From:
      Michael Cohen Helped Trump Donor Seek Investment From Qatar Fund – WSJ

  33. Tom says:

    Re: the question of treason, I think the Founding Fathers were sensitive about this topic as they themselves were traitors by virtue of their armed rebellion against their anointed King. But in the case of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and the rest, their treason prospered and so “none dare call it treason.” But I think it is wise not to have a too expansive interpretation of treason, and it’s usually not a good idea to change or create a law based on one particular emotionally charged incident or set of circumstances. Even after the Civil War, only Jefferson Davis was originally indicted for treason though the charge was later dropped. As for Robert E. Lee and the other senior Confederate commanders, they were deemed not to be open to charges of treason under the terms of their surrender. In fact, Ulysses S. Grant threatened to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the Union armies if the federal government decided to proceed with treason charges against Lee and other former Confederate officers.

  34. Trip says:

    BobCon says:
    December 21, 2018 at 9:15 am

    It’s highly unlikely that Kushner would double cross Bibi. The Kushner family has investments in the settlements stolen land. Bibi even slept at their house. This new US withdrawal fiasco may give Israel free rein to blow everything up to smithereens directly. The entire Kushner “peace plan” was predicated on all concessions coming from the Palestinians. I don’t see him turning away from that.

    • BobCon says:

      I’m a million miles away from being an expert on Israeli politics, but one thing I know is that you never underestimate the potential for double crosses, especially from amoral people like Kushner. Netanyahu has done plenty himself, and he is fending off challenges right now due to the looming threat of indictments. It’s not crazy to think that Kushner has toyed with overtures from people in Netanyahu’s coalition looking for support to take his place. Given the shaky foundations of Kushner’s business, I also wouldn’t rule out overtures from wealthy Arabs dangling investments. That doesn’t mean Kushner has gone in for it, but I could see him getting far enough along in discussions that a third party might use them for major leverage.

  35. Jenny says:

    Thanks Marcy for the excellent list of current topics.

    The Fear-monger in Chief is spewing fear, fear and more fear. Beneath his public bluster and assertiveness is fear of loss. Loss of hair, wealth, business ventures, relationships and presidency. “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” John Steinbeck

    This is deep-seated insecurity and need for approval is the rooted from childhood. His quote in the book Fear by Woodward on March 31. 2016, “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.”

    Speaks volumes about a man drawn to dictatorial individuals. Authoritarians rule by fear – My Way or the Highway Club.

  36. Trip says:

    BobCon says:
    December 21, 2018 at 9:16 am

    They never should have moved the statue of the brave girl staring down the bull on Wall Street.

    But it hurt the bull statue creator’s feelings!

  37. Karen says:

    As you all have noted, Trump is not a peacenik—remember when he had to be talked out of invading Venezuela? He’s just scrambling to fulfill his obligations.

  38. harpie says:

    And, speaking of Treasury, I wonder how this bit of news from December 20, 2018, at 12:49 p.m. ET, by Leopold/Cormier fits in with everything else:
    Russian Agents Sought Secret US Treasury Records On Clinton Backers During 2016 Campaign
    Whistleblowers said the Americans were exchanging messages with unsecure Gmail accounts set up by their Russian counterparts as the US election heated up.

  39. Trip says:

    A Top Aide’s Exit Plan Raises Eyebrows in the White House


    Mr. Fuentes told colleagues that after his mentor, John F. Kelly, left his job as chief of staff at the end of the year, he would “hide out” at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, for six months, remaining on the payroll in a nebulous role. Then, in July, when he had completed 15 years of service in the Coast Guard, Mr. Fuentes — an active-duty officer — would take advantage of an early retirement program.

    Frankly, I don’t buy that it was this guy’s fault stopping Trump from going out in the rain to visit the cemetery, but obviously, he’s on the cutting board now. So much courage in the WH, hiding until you can retire!

    • Alan says:

      I may not like the guy but he does have almost 15 years of service in the Coast Guard and his career is now dead. Give him his early retirement and let him move on.

      • Trip says:

        Clearly, someone in the WH leaked this, and I suspect Javanka, since they were adversaries of Kelly. They wouldn’t want any remaining vestiges of that legacy. I see your point. On the other hand, nearly every single person in this WH puts themselves as top priority vs any good for the country. So much waste and grifting.

  40. Cathy says:

    Question for those that are accustomed to reading between the published/public lines:

    Does Mattis’ resignation letter put him in a stronger position to parry Trump the next couple months?

    The letter sends a strong resign-in-protest signal but I don’t know enough about such things to tell whether the proposed termination date a couple months out is consistent (as opposed to a more abrupt departure).

    • Drew says:

      I do not know how this will play out. Mattis’ letter clearly was done because his position was not strong enough to accomplish the things that he regarded as essential. Putting this out publicly summons the aid of his supporters in the Senate and the House and jams Trump from doing things with impunity. Trump *could* demand his immediate departure, but he would have to face the coalition behind Mattis and most smart money bets that he doesn’t have that kind of courage.

      The hope would be that things would turn around, or mitigate a bit, in the next two months–I’m unsure about that happening except for further indictments and destabilization of Trump & co. I have a hard time envisioning ANYONE wanting to sit through Senate hearings as nominee for Secretary of Defense in these circumstances–the nominee would have to avoid undermining the President who nominated her/him while answering questions signaled in Mattis’ resignation letter about American values, allies and authoritarianism–from right, left & center.

  41. Trip says:

    @Marcy, is it possible that big dick toilet salesman’s non-recusal represents the opposite of what we suspect? (playing devil’s advocate) To keep some stability at the DOJ, because if he recused, he’d be ousted promptly, while Mueller is at some critical junctures? In this realm of thinking, Rosenstein maybe thought it best to keep him in play?

    I mean, how deep does Whitaker want to take this where he risks his own skin for Trump, if he has seen any of the evidence of conspiracy? On the other hand, he’s a big dick toilet time machine yeti salesman, so clearly he isn’t the sharpest (most ethical) tool in the shed.

  42. Bay State Librul says:

    How about the word “betrayal” — would that make the legal police happy.

    See, according to Bmaz, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about (he might be right!) and Larry Tribe is senile….

    So, if Trump gives the Keys to the Kingdom (see AJ Cronin) to Putin and Turkey, Bmaz throws a hissy fit and tells me to go to my room….

    And if there are bats flying out of Quisling’s belfry (stolen from Pierce), then I’m prohibited to say treason, since we are not engaged in war?

    Makes fucking no sense and is totally narrow-minded


    • Diviz says:

      Bingo. Treason, collusion, RICO. All EW no-nos because the lay usage is divorced from the legal definition to such an extent that it weakens your argument. Using them kind of marks you as the frothy left. I think everyone comes here because it’s a froth-free zone. At least I do.

    • bmaz says:

      It may be “narrow-minded”, but it is also quite accurate and legally correct. We try to do that here, as you may have noticed over the many years.

  43. Trip says:

    bmaz‏ @bmaz 49m49 minutes ago

    Before we go too far praising Mattis, remember he was a key board member of Theranos and tried very hard to get the fraudulent company government defense contracts. That is pretty reprehensible.

    I agree with bmaz, here. In contrast to Trump, Mattis might be the adult, he may see the writing on the wall as to Trump’s malign allegiances, but we should also consider his past, and not crown him the saintly hero either.

    Mattis was responsible for mass civilian casualties and denied it:

    James Mattis is linked to a massive corporate fraud and nobody wants to talk about it
    Better let a scandal slide than risk a nuclear war.

    This is just a note of perspective, not to demean him, nor the seemingly sincere intent behind his letter. We often simply get too far into the black and white of the heroes and villains narratives.

  44. Fran of the North says:

    The special forces base in Tanf is a bit less than 300 road miles (much shorter as the crow flies, but that is open desert) from the oil fields at Deir al-Zour where the battle between US and Syrian forces / Russian backed mercenaries took place. My impression is that the US troops in the battle would have been SF as well.,+Syria/Deir+Al-Zor,+Syria/@34.4286498,38.4013855,9z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x153e0a85826f8d3f:0xfbaab842977dcbd6!2m2!1d38.663021!2d33.48959!1m5!1m1!1s0x1548153314d3dbad:0x9d5a68804221c27f!2m2!1d40.3088626!2d35.2879798

    The reason they are in Deir al-Zour is to protect a (ex??) Conoco oil field from the Syrians / ISIS. Rumor had it that the reason the Prigozhin mercs were involved was that they had been promised a share of the oil revenues. (not sure where I saw that reporting)

    Early report on the battle:

    So if we withdraw because we won, does that mean that any oil revenues flowing to ISIS can be used to build the steel slatted divider, or does it just buy a penthouse in eponymous building somewhere?

    It is all in the ‘Art of the Deal’.

  45. Trip says:

    @Fran of the North…Prigozhin is already enjoying the fruits of the oil. I’m pretty sure Meduza covered it second hand from a Russian journalist who was also covering the Wagner mercenaries. IIRC, that journalist may no longer be with us.

  46. Wm. Boyce says:

    I’d be surprised if Mr. Mueller’s investigation could be “stopped” at this late date. I realize that Mr. Whitaker might take some action or other, but the Dems take control of the House very soon, and presumably would go after any docs that the executive branch attempted to suppress.


    • Tom says:

      I’m inclined to agree.   There are too many spilled beans and cats out of bags to be put back in the toothpaste tube now.

  47. David Karson says:

    great analysis–thanks!    Maybe Putin realizes that Trump might be impeached so Putin is calling in his chits while he can? (Apologize if this has already been asked and Thanks in Advance).

  48. Trip says:

    This is at once both hilarious, and with Trump, not entirely implausible, so terrifying too:


    Defense Secretary Mick Mulvaney

    What’s one more title?

  49. Trip says:


    Zoe Tillman‏Verified account @ZoeTillman

    In the event of a government shutdown, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office would *not* be affected. They’re funded through a “permanent indefinite appropriation,” per a spokeperson

    On another note, McConnell is fwa-fwa-fwa-ing in support of Trump. Does he have a pool boy story like Falwell?

  50. Mulder says:

    From the December 10th Robert Wright appearance (over an hour with Marcy!).

    Marcy, you said that the Stone indictment, the mystery appellant, and Assange in custody/release/pardon are all linked.

    I found this most intriguing. Can you add more?

  51. MattyG says:

    I wonder, from a logistical standpoint, how do Putin and DT actually communicate? Smoke signals, prior agreement, third party intermediaries (as decribed in this post), or other? Is it possible the Kusner/Flynn/? backchannel was in fact set up after all?

    DT makes an *awful* lot of trips to his golf courses – a connection?

    Also, is it possible “Country A” is one the offshore banking fiefdoms; Cayman Islands, Cyprus etc.?

  52. gmoke says:

    We can see that Russia and Turkey have Trmp by the short hairs but I’d guarantee that the Saudis and the Israelis and the Chinese have a good grip on those short and curlies too. Possibly many others.

    What I’d also like to see come out in the Trmp collapse is the fact that about a third of ALL luxury real estate (if not more) around the world is in fact money laundering. Let that come out with a vengeance so that people realize that the destruction of the urban environment is a by-product of the illegal activities of the plutocratic kleptocratic kakistocracy.

  53. john crandell says:

    Ever since I first heard that Droid has declared his candidacy, my thought was that if he were to be elected, things would essentially/finally arrive at the situation where there would be violence in the streets in urban areas across the nation, that Droid would have made moves to foster such a situation and when it happened, it would present his with a chance to become whatever sort of dictator he might want to be. An attack on the country’s electric grid, courtesy of Vlad’s minions, would provide Droid a one and only opportunity. Yet the Pentagon and the intelligence sector are alienated. So we’d end up with a Pentagon/intelligence dictatorship, instead.

    • bmaz says:

      That link is broken. And, yes, Dershowitz has indeed lost his mind. But Tribe took to being in bed with blithering false idiots like Louise Mensch and is also very ofter WAY out in front of where intelligent thought ought be.  Neither look overly good lately. Dersh ugly for a lot longer though.

  54. punaise says:

    OT: Speaking of walls, Trump allegedly wants a “steel slat” barrier.

    I was tempted to go with something comparing him to a slattern, but that would be unkind to round-heeled women, would it not?

    / punfail

  55. Eureka says:

    @ Boikley- “treachery” is my go-to as well. Or “traitorous treachery.”

    @ Ken Muldrew- “treison” is a great idea, for all of the reasons you cite.

  56. Mark Rabine says:

    i dont care if trump has a deal for a hotel in istanbul, the troops in syria were doing absolutely nothing but sitting around waiting to get attacked by the turks, kurds, syrians, jihadis, hezbollah, iranians, russians, all the above.  this is what bolton and pompeo wanted/want —   a trip wire to get is into a shooting war with iran.  the u.s. military presence in the 21st century levant has brought chaos and destruction across the region.  troops cant get out fast enough.

  57. Trip says:

    Trump asked why he couldn’t simply assassinate Assad. He also asked why he couldn’t just nuke N Korea. So before you go off on Trump’s corruption doesn’t matter to you, consider his absolute incompetence, indifference to consequences and lack of strategy for troop removal. Now they really are sitting ducks.

  58. Laura says:

    As I read Marcy’s frightening, depressing entry and the astute comments that followed, I managed to eat my way through a fucking PINT of ice cream (McConnell’s Sea Salt Caramel Chip, to be precise). Standing by while our country is being devoured by corrupt authoritarian megalomaniacs is making me anxious and utterly ruining my girlish figure. This whole mess feels like something out of dystopian fiction, except that it’s reality.

    I know I sound neurotic but don’t think I’m overreacting. :(

  59. Island Girl says:

    The REason Trump decided to get out of Syria is simple: new Russian weaponry leaves American ground troops exposed because USAF planes cannot provide cover for them. You can dot the i’s and cross the t’s at Voltairenet. Very likely an agreement on the current situ on the ground, so to speak, this has struck between Russia, Syria, Israel, and the USA.

  60. HRHTish says:

    Island Girl, I am sorry but that is nonsense.  There is no “new weaponry” from Russia that the Pentagon hasn’t already  developed countermeasures for.

    Besides,  Trump is utterly incapable of thinking on that level.

    Trump has a reflexive,  daddy-complex need to defer to strongmen, and that’s what happened here.

  61. skua says:

    Laura, extensive experiments have shown that that was a waste of very good ice-cream.
    Here at the Skua Institute we hypothesize that the icecream will taste better later, when the worry and fear have reduced.
    Our researchers assure us that the very next time they are in a situation like yours they will finally try not eating and worrying at the same time.

  62. Laura says:


    Given that 2019 is likely to be even worse than 2018, I’ve decided I need to exercise restraint. Tonight I put a scoop in a bowl, instead of digging my spoon straight into the pint. Survival strategy. Sigh.

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