THE MORNING PLUM:
This morning, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.) — the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee — put out a report that offers a remarkable indictment of President Trump’s abdication of his responsibility to protect and defend our free and fair elections.
Republicans on the committee didn’t sign on to the report. This makes it more likely that it will be seen as a partisan document. Indeed, the desire to make that happen was likely the whole reason Republicans didn’t sign on to it.
But here’s the thing: We already know from independent reporting that the basic story told in the report is accurate and true.
The report offers an extensive look at what it calls Vladimir Putin’s “asymmetric assault on democracy” in multiple countries, and its “implications for U.S. national security.” For our purposes, what is notable is the report’s criticism of Trump’s failure to take steps to fortify our elections against future Russian attacks, which is pointed and detailed:
Despite the clear assaults on our democracy and our allies in Europe, the U.S. government still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home. … the lack of presidential leadership in addressing the threat Putin poses has hampered a strong U.S. response. …
While many mid-level and some senior-level officials throughout the State Department and U.S. government are cognizant of the threat posed by Mr. Putin’s asymmetric arsenal, the U.S. President continues to deny that any such threat exists, creating a leadership vacuum in our own government and among our European partners and allies.
The report concludes that Trump “has been negligent in acknowledging and responding” to the threat of future election sabotage and calls on him to “launch a national response” to that threat. This includes establishing a coordinated inter-agency response to the threat; and presenting to Congress a “comprehensive national strategy” to deal with it.
The Associated Press reports that “no Republicans” signed on to this document and its set of recommendations.
Yet the basic outlines of this story have already been established by an extensive investigative report in The Post, which concluded that the U.S. government’s ability to prepare for this threat has been hampered by Trump’s refusal to accept that Russian sabotage of our election in 2016 happened at all. The Post noted that administration officials themselves acknowledge that Trump has “never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it.”
Even worse, The Post noted that “there is an unspoken understanding” within the National Security Council that the matter must not be raised with the president, because this would “acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.” Incredibly, The Post reported that this is rooted in a refusal by Trump to accept what even many inside the administration “regard as objective reality.”
It is rapidly becoming the position of the whole GOP to join in this great abdication. First, it will be an interesting test to see how many Republicans — who, you may recall, previously condemned Russian meddling — join in endorsing even the general recommendations in this report, never mind the criticism of Trump.
What’s more, you can draw a line from this directly to other big displays of GOP abdication on the Russia front. When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released the transcript of the Fusion GPS co-founder’s congressional testimony, it was in response to the Republicans’ refusal to do the same. That refusal basically denied the American people crucial information that Republicans themselves had gathered about the genesis of the FBI probe into Trump-Russia collusion, simply because it didn’t prop up — but instead undercut — the alternate narrative that Republicans had developed with the purpose of casting efforts to hold Trump and his associates accountable as illegitimate.
The goal of that alt-narrative is in part to discredit the investigation as an abuse of power in its own right, by depicting the allegedly partisan Steele dossier as the trigger for the original FBI probe. But thanks to that released testimony, we have learned that the FBI apparently took the findings of the Steele dossier author seriously because they corroborated information the FBI had already gathered from other sources. Meanwhile, this abdication continues on other fronts. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are now weaponizing their probe against the FBI in service of this alt-narrative and are derailing the probe’s actual truth-seeking by refusing to green-light subpoenas to re-call Donald Trump Jr. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fill in more detail about Trump’s efforts to impede the FBI investigation and, possibly, to obstruct justice.
Obviously one can argue that warnings of the Russian threat to future elections are overblown or that the collusion and potential Trump obstruction that have already been documented don’t amount to serious misconduct or crimes. But the point is that Republicans are working to frustrate a full accounting into all these matters without knowing what, exactly, they are preventing from seeing the light of day.
Democrats are finally mounting push-back that is commensurate with a recognition of the true nature of what we’re seeing here. The Cardin report marks a newly aggressive effort to sound the alarm about Trump’s abdication of responsibility to protect our elections. Feinstein’s release of the Fusion GPS testimony signals a recognition that Republicans are actively trying to suppress the truth at this point and that tougher measures are needed in response. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are mulling the release of a minority report that would detail the avenues of inquiry that Republicans have blocked. If Republicans are joining Trump in this great abdication, we are now seeing a new phase in the Democratic response to it.
* TRUMP’S ADVISERS RELIEVED THAT HE ACTED SANE: The New York Times’s Peter Baker notes that at his appearance with congressional leaders yesterday, Trump went to great lengths to show that he’s fit for the presidency:
Mr. Trump appeared intent on demonstrating that he could handle the presidency. … He did not berate anyone. He did not call anyone derogatory nicknames. He signaled that he was open to compromise. … For his advisers, the meeting was a relief, a chance to reset the narrative and make Mr. Trump look more like a traditional president.
Very good, Donnie, very good! Could the bar possibly be any lower?
* TRUMP TAKES A HIT ON DACA: A federal judge in California has temporarily ordered the Trump administration to restart the program protecting “dreamers,” pending a final ruling on the legality of Trump’s scrapping of it. CNN notes:
In his 49-page ruling, [Judge William] Alsup said “plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious” and must be set aside under the federal Administrative Procedures Act.
Still, this could easily prove temporary and only underscores how uncertain the dreamers’ situation really is, which should boost pressure for a congressional solution.
* TRUMP’S TWEETS UNDERCUT HIS CASE: The New York Times points to another key nugget in the DACA ruling:
Judge Alsup also cited several of Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts that expressed support for the program. He noted that in September, the president wrote: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” Such tweets, the judge said, bolstered the idea that keeping the program going was in the public’s interest.
That tweet, you may recall, represented a rare effort by Trump to talk sense into his fellow Republicans about ending the program. Of course, he ended it anyway.
* THE FBI BELIEVED STEELE: Amber Phillips has a rundown of the news in Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony to Congress about dossier author Christopher Steele. One key revelation: The FBI believed Steele’s info about Trump-Russia links:
After Steele and Simpson called the FBI to report that they had reason to believe the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia, Simpson said, the FBI asked Steele to share everything. A couple months after Steele gave the FBI a full briefing, the FBI said that it believed him, according to Simpson. How this contradicts Trump’s side: There’s been a growing movement to suggest the dossier was merely a convenient tool that the FBI used to investigate the next president of the United States.
Also notable: Simpson testified that Steele reported back to him that his info corroborated info the FBI had already gathered.
* TRANSCRIPT’S RELEASE DEEPENS TENSIONS: The Post notes that the release of the transcript, which was done by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) despite opposition from Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley, is stoking tensions between Democrats and Republicans:
Increasingly, the Democrats and Republicans on the committee are going in different directions, with Grassley moving to investigate matters involving Clinton when she was secretary of state and Feinstein concentrating on Russian interference in the election.
It’s a problem that Republicans are more interested in using the investigation to prop up a fake alt-narrative than in getting to the bottom of an attack on our democracy.
* DACA TALKS ARE A MESS: Politico recaps the latest in the bipartisan talks about how to protect the dreamers, after Trump sent all kinds of contradictory messages on them:
Numerous attendees of the highly anticipated White House meeting left assured that a deal … would include four main parts: legal status for Dreamers, more robust border security, an overhaul of family-based immigration laws and a change to a controversial visa lottery program. That only those elements were included was a clear signal to conservatives, who are demanding more expansive enforcement provisions in any fix.
This deal is being negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, and House Republicans and Democrats are both balking. The good news is some Republicans are gently signaling that Trump’s wall is a nonstarter.
* WHITE HOUSE TRANSCRIPT OMITS TRUMP QUOTE: Yesterday Trump momentarily lost his mind and declared support for a deal protecting the “dreamers.” But as Ashley Parker reports:
When the White House released its official transcript Tuesday afternoon, the president’s line — “Yeah, I would like to do it” — was missing. A White House official said that any omission from the transcript was unintentional and that the context of the conversation was clear.
Fortunately, Trump subsequently regained his sanity and reiterated that we must waste billions on a symbolic wall before we take steps to protect hundreds of thousands brought here illegally as children.