THE MORNING PLUM:
After spending some of his “executive time” this morning watching “Fox & Friends,” President Trump thanked his favorite cable channel for airing a segment that discussed President Barack Obama’s failure to block Russian interference in our election. Trump himself cited this failure over the weekend, asking: “Why didn’t he do something?”
Trump repeated that message today, flatly alleging that Obama didn’t do enough to resist Russian sabotage because he thought Hillary Clinton would win and didn’t want to “rock the boat.” Trump is right in one sense: The indictment should open the door to a reexamination of why the previous administration failed to do enough to counter Russian meddling.
The problem for Trump is that this line of inquiry also leads right back to the conduct of his fellow Republicans in the face of this Russian effort to undermine our democracy — conduct that was undertaken on his and the GOP’s behalf.
Now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has laid out a startlingly detailed plot by Russian nationals to influence the election, which included multiple “operations” that included “supporting” Trump’s presidential candidacy and “disparaging” his opponent’s, it presents an occasion to revisit a series of episodes in 2016 that still remain poorly understood.
It is true that the Obama administration failed in key ways to safeguard the 2016 election. But it has also been established by dogged reporting that leading congressional Republicans rebuffed top Obama officials who wanted them to show a united, bipartisan public front against that Russian sabotage. As The Post has reported, when those officials made that request of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), he refused, claiming (in The Post’s words) that “he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.”
Former CIA director John Brennan has gone on the record about these efforts. “In those briefings of Congress, some of the individuals expressed concern that this was motivated by partisan interests on the part of the [Obama] administration,” Brennan recently said in a “Frontline” documentary. “I took offense to that. I told them that this is an intelligence assessment; that this is an intelligence matter.”
In the light of Mueller’s new indictment, we should revisit this. Before, we didn’t really have any idea just how extensive a case for Russian meddling was presented to GOP lawmakers. But now we have a much clearer sense of just how elaborate the Russian scheme really was — and a much clearer sense of the degree to which it was aimed at tipping the election to Trump. Indeed, the Mueller indictment doesn’t touch the role of WikiLeaks and the cybertheft aimed at top Democrats, which suggests that it only scratches the surface of what is known.
All this makes it more likely that a credible, detailed case was presented to GOP lawmakers in those meetings — not just of the scope of the Russian plot but also that its aim was to help install Trump in the White House, as part of a “strategic effort to sow discord in the U.S. political system,” as the indictment puts it. And so, Trump’s new spin in the face of the indictment — that it reveals Obama’s failure to act in the face of the threat — also invites more scrutiny of their conduct in the face of that threat.
Writing at Crooked Media, Brian Beutler points to a deep tension in the media debate over the Mueller indictment. Observers are struggling to come to terms with how extensive the Russian sabotage effort really was, while simultaneously avoiding grappling with whether it might have helped tip an extremely close election to Trump — an uncomfortable topic, because that might place a question mark over Trump’s legitimacy.
And that raises another related uncomfortable question — a forward-looking one. Trump and his media allies have gone to enormous lengths to discredit and hamstring a full reckoning into what happened. Numerous Republicans in Congress have perverted and weaponized the oversight process to lend an assist to that effort. Because Trump refuses to take Russian sabotage of the 2016 presidential election seriously, Trump is conspicuously failing to organize a response to the threat of Russian meddling in upcoming elections, even though intelligence officials warn this effort is already upon us.
Republicans such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) have greeted the Mueller indictment by claiming our election security must be taken seriously. But how many Republicans are openly calling out Trump’s inaction in that regard, which the indictment gives us ample grounds for taking even more seriously? As the Atlantic’s David Frum suggests, we need to discuss a “bigger and darker question,” namely whether Trump — and, crucially, congressional Republicans — may not particularly care about this threat if they stand to benefit from it.
Much of this is speculative, which provides a way for those who find these topics awkward to avoid reckoning directly with them. But the specific conduct of GOP lawmakers in declining to show a united front against Russian sabotage of our democracy is a topic that needn’t remain speculative. It can be fully fleshed out and established with empirical, journalistic inquiry. Trump has unwittingly invited this inquiry. We should take him up on it.
* PUBLIC WANTS ACTION ON MASS SHOOTINGS: A new Post/ABC News poll finds that 58 percent of Americans think stricter gun laws would have stopped the Florida massacre. And:
A 77 percent majority says Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings and 62 percent say the same of Trump, according to the poll. At least half feel “strongly” that Congress and the president have not taken adequate action. Majorities across party lines express frustration with Congress, while views of Trump are more divided … More than 6 in 10 Republicans say Trump is taking sufficient action to prevent mass shootings, although more than one-quarter of fellow partisans, 28 percent, say he is not.
So Republicans say Congress isn’t doing enough, but Trump is doing enough? Makes sense.
* WHITE HOUSE SAW FLORIDA SHOOTING AS ‘REPRIEVE’: The Post reports that, inside the White House, which was reeling from the Rob Porter mess and intensifying Russia probe, the massacre provided “an opportunity to refocus on handling a crisis not of their own making”:
While the White House mourned the loss of life in Parkland, Fla., some aides privately acknowledged that the tragedy offered a breather from the political storm. … “For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,” said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal conversations. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”
Another sign of just how awful it must be to work inside the Trump White House.
* HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE IS AT WAR: Politico reports on the multiple ways that the House Intel Committee’s Russia probe has led to brutal infighting among members. Note this from GOP committee member Rep. Peter T. King:
King also said he feared the problem will only worsen in the weeks ahead, as committee Republicans seek to wind down the Russia inquiry while Democrats press for dozens more witnesses. “The pressure’s going to get more intense. We have to finish the investigation,” he said. “The Democrats want 87 more witnesses. I can’t see us going more than one or two.”
This will be widely spun in the press as “partisan bickering,” but the fact is that one party is far more serious about getting to the bottom of Russian sabotage than the other is.
* FACEBOOK WALKS BACK TRUMP MESSAGE: Facebook is under fire after a senior official tweeted that Russia’s primary goal wasn’t to help Trump win, which Trump seized upon. But now Facebook is walking it back:
Now, Facebook is in the uncomfortable position of reining in an off-message executive, while clarifying that it didn’t mean to bolster the president’s position. “The special counsel has issued its indictments, and nothing we found contradicts their conclusions,” Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy, said in a statement. “Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”
In other words, Facebook now concedes that Russians used it as part of a plot to help Trump win. Of course, that won’t stop Trump supporters from continuing to push Facebook’s original claim.
* THE DEM ROUTE TO A HOUSE MAJORITY: Ron Brownstein reports that there are three types of districts Dems must win. First, there are the white collar, well-educated suburban districts around major metropolitan centers in blue territory. The other two:
One is what I call Romneyland: white-collar suburban seats in purple and even red states where Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, almost universally performed better than Donald Trump did in 2016. … The third are the “blue-collar blues”: mostly blue-collar, non-urban seats in blue states, where Trump almost without exception improved on Romney’s performance. … The big question is how far Democrats can reach into … white-collar seats in traditionally Republican-leaning areas, or seats in Democratic states that are more rural and blue-collar.
The first of these are the low-hanging fruit, but they aren’t enough. As Brownstein notes, the Dem wins in places such as Virginia bode very well for the second. The third remains a big question mark.
* GOP IS AWASH IN BAD FAITH: Paul Krugman looks at the torrent of lies and bad faith coming from Trump, his administration and the GOP on one front after another, and concludes:
The modern G.O.P. is, to an extent never before seen in American history, a party built around bad faith, around pretending that its concerns and goals are very different from what they really are. … America in 2018 is not a place where we can disagree without being disagreeable … or whatever other bipartisan homily you want to recite. We are, instead, living in a kakistocracy, a nation ruled by the worst, and we need to face up to that unpleasant reality.
Press coverage that continues to blame “Washington” or “Congress” or “partisan bickering” for the disastrous messes resulting from this reality only serves to further obscure it.
* ROMNEY GRATEFULLY ACCEPTS TRUMP’S ENDORSEMENT: Last night Trump endorsed Mitt Romney’s newly announced run for Senate from Utah. Romney replied thusly:
Remember when Romney denounced Trump as unfit to serve as president? This does not bode well for those of us who hope he will serve as a serious voice of opposition to Trump.