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How a 50-year-old photo mystery was solved - well, at least half of it

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
How a 50-year-old photo mystery was solved - well, at least half of it
Michele Leimomi Sing Holzman at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Holzman was the subject of a photograph taken by Richard Bensinger at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in 1968. She is holding a copy of the original photo. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

WASHINGTON - Late one night inside an art-filled home on a tranquil parkway in Silver Spring, Maryland, a woman decided to take her laptop to bed with her. She clicked on a story about an old picture. Her eyes widened.

"No," Michele Holzman thought to herself. "That couldn't be me. Could it?"

The article, published in late May in The Washington Post, told the story of a remarkable photograph taken by a teenager at the Poor People's Campaign demonstration that took over the National Mall in the summer of 1968. The image - depicting a young African-American man and a young white woman splashing through the Lincoln Memorial's Reflecting Pool - had never been published.

But it had hung on a wall at the home of the photographer, Richard Bensinger, who would go on to become a nationally known labor leader, as well as in the homes of his sister and brother-in-law, both prominent law professors. For decades, visitors to their homes - activists, labor leaders, law students, attorneys - had been transfixed by the scene. The image had been an inspiration to Bensinger, a source of solace during the most demoralizing days of his battles on behalf of workers. He had spent years trying, to no avail, to identify the photo's subjects.

The Post article about Bensinger's photo triggered an outpouring of interest. Hundreds of people posted it on the internet and sent in guesses. For some, the photo evoked the climactic scene in the film "Forrest Gump," when the title character played by Tom Hanks splashes into the pool to embrace his dear friend Jenny, portrayed by Robin Wright.

A college professor scoured old Southern Poverty Law Center publications and wondered whether the woman might be prominent '60s-era activist Lisa Cusumano. Others scrutinized ancient photos and guessed the woman is civil rights activist Heather Booth or feminist writer Kate Millett.

Still others hoped that the photo would remain a mystery. A commenter on The Post's website drew a comparison to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Few speculated about the identity of the man, whose face was somewhat more obscured by shadows.

None of this registered with Holzman as she sat reading the article in Silver Spring. She lives in a kind of blissfully retro information universe. Holzman reads the newspaper and has NPR playing all day, but she has no television or social-media accounts.

She mulled the image, turning it over and over in her head. She dug through old photographs. Her mind swarmed with the emotions and memories of that day.

She waited awhile; she is not one to rush. But on the Fourth of July, right after returning home from a gun-control demonstration, infused with the spirit of that bygone day on the Mall, she picked up the phone and called Bensinger's house.

After 50 years, Holzman's recollections of that day and that remarkable time in American history are flecked with crystalline detail. The skirt she wore. The blouse. That watch. The song they were singing.

In interviews, Holzman - now 73 - recounted how she had grown up in Hawaii, the daughter of a French woman and a Chinese-Hawaiian man, who was raised by her Chinese grandparents. She moved to the Washington area in the 1960s with her then-husband.

They abhorred the conflict in Vietnam, and often attended antiwar rallies. Once, she said, they were tear-gassed in Lafayette Square, across from the White House.

In spring 1968, the Poor People's Campaign settled onto the Mall for a weeks-long encampment, realizing the dream of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., who had envisioned the demonstration as a way of pressuring the government to do more to end poverty. Holzman was working for a government contractor involved with anti-poverty programs for the Office of Economic Opportunity. Postmarked letters from 1968, stored in an old trunk, confirmed Holzman's addresses in the months before and after the demonstration. Contemporaneous photos leave little doubt that she is the woman in Bensinger's picture.

During the demonstration, volunteers were asked to bring meals to the protesters, who were living in tents on the Mall. One blistering hot day, Holzman said, she and several co-workers gathered food and made their way to the Lincoln Memorial from their downtown office on 19th Street NW.

After she arrived, Holzman said, she suddenly noticed a commotion. Hundreds of people were jumping into the Reflecting Pool. Her friends told her she would be crazy to join them. She had just bought a pair of leather sandals at a shop in Georgetown. They told her she'd ruin them.

But Holzman - then and now - is the sort of person who is open to experience; her reminiscences are sprinkled with references to "lost weekends" at a friend's place in France's Languedoc and the elaborate costumes she would wear for her ritual trips to celebrate Mardi Gras. Back then, she thought to herself: "When am I ever going to get to go into the pool?"

She plunged in. Within moments a young man came splashing over to her. At first, she recalled, she felt awkward. But when people started singing the gospel hymn "Amen," she was put at ease, and went splashing down the length of the shallow pool. She doesn't remember exchanging more than a word or two with the young man. If she got his name, she long ago forgot it.

For her, that day was a joyous, spontaneous moment. Yet, at the time, nothing about the experience made her think it was so remarkable that she would be talking about it half a century later. She hadn't even noticed the skinny kid from Louisville standing there in the pool with a camera when she went by.

She went on with her life.

Over most of the next 50 years, Holzman and Bensinger, now 67, would live just a few miles from each other. He in the Northern Virginia suburbs; she in Silver Spring in between stints living abroad with her husband, who became a Foreign Service officer, and after her divorce, with her then-domestic partner in Switzerland. On the walls of her home, lush original oil paintings by prominent artists share space with her own creations.

In the ensuing years, Bensinger became one of the nation's most significant labor leaders, founding the AFL-CIO's Organizing Institute. Holzman had an entrepreneurial bent, owning a pharmacy in Pennsylvania and, in the early 1990s, co-owning a natural cosmetics store in D.C.'s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. She sometimes hosted political fundraisers.

Bensinger and Holzman had traveled on parallel paths, attending the same sorts of demonstrations, supporting the same sorts of candidates. They might have passed each other on the street a dozen times. How could they have known they were linked?

At The Post's invitation, Holzman and Bensinger met on a recent afternoon, almost precisely 50 years after the day that Bensinger took her photo. Outside The Post's downtown offices, Holzman pulled up in her hybrid four-seater and waited for the man she had been inspiring without knowing it.

When Bensinger walked up, Holzman was smiling - the same, unmistakable, utterly infectious expression that she has in that long-ago photo. No longer the longhair, 5-foot-5 kid who snapped the picture, Bensinger stands 6 feet tall. He's graying now, his long 1960s locks gone, having ceded territory to time. He leaned down, swallowing the diminutive Holzman in a long embrace. He was meeting his mystery.

"It's surreal," he kept saying, his heart racing. "Crazy, crazy, crazy."

He had sometimes worried that the people in the photo would have drifted from the ideals embodied on that day on the Mall, that they would have grown cynical about the prospects for racial equality and economic justice. Meeting Holzman erased those worries.

Like that day long ago, the sun beat down unrelentingly. The temperature rose to 98 - the highest of the year. Still, they returned to the Mall, where their lives had unwittingly intertwined, if only for an instant.

At the Reflecting Pool, they found themselves talking as much about the future as the past. Bensinger resolved to find the young man in the photo, hoping to fill in another blank in his mystery. Holzman remarked how she had resolved to play a role in shaping the world around her - but to do so with a sense of optimism and joy, not in anger.

"I think the important thing is to be part of the world," Holzman said.

She spoke of her intentions to push for environmental protections to preserve the planet - not so much for herself but for her grandchildren. Bensinger raved about the activism of young people these days.

"I've never seen more interest in social justice in my career," he said. "It's a moment again."

Holzman interjected, finishing his sentence for him: "Like the '60s!"

In conservative Oklahoma, a Republican raises taxes - and many voters like it

By Tim Craig
In conservative Oklahoma, a Republican raises taxes - and many voters like it
A group traverses the rapids at a white-water rafting and kayaking center that was paid for by a 1-cent sales tax increase in Oklahoma City. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Nick Oxford

OKLAHOMA CITY - Helen Swope considers herself a traditional Republican, skittish about paying higher taxes for what can seem like the ever-growing role of government.

But after Oklahoma City spent hundreds of millions of dollars building new parks, bicycle trails, elite recreational facilities and a soon-to-be-completed streetcar network, Swope thinks maybe the state government can learn something from the city's former four-term mayor, Mick Cornett, a leading Republican candidate for governor.

"The whole city has been transformed," said Swope, who lives in the suburbs but now travels into the city each weekend to new indoor tennis courts paid for by city taxpayers. "You get a lot of promises a lot of the time and nothing happens, but now there were a lot of promises and things happened."

Even as Republican voters nationwide continue to lurch to the right, Swope's assessment of Cornett reflects a surprising trend in Oklahoma politics this year: The pro-government Republican is making a comeback, as GOP voters at least in some places reject hard-line anti-tax policies.

After years of upheaval in state government, including chronic budget shortfalls and this year's teacher walkout over low pay, Oklahoma Republicans veered toward moderation when they selected two candidates from the state's urban centers - Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt - to advance to an Aug. 28 runoff.

The election was a setback for the state's tea party and Christian conservative movements, as Cornett and Stitt defeated eight other GOP candidates, including Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who had sought to align himself with President Donald Trump.

The results were widely interpreted as a repudiation of Gov. Mary Fallin, R, who pushed for income tax cuts even as teachers and advocates decried cuts to state education funding. Fallin is barred from seeking a third term.

Analysts and Oklahoma residents say the outcome also reflected a more fundamental disenchantment with the direction of a state that is becoming more diverse and under the sway of comparatively moderate voters in metropolitan areas.

"I think I have a lot of the same sentiments that a lot of other people in Oklahoma do - our senators, legislators and governor have been so strong fighting against each other, nothing is really getting done," Ryan Codding, a 42-year-old Republican, said as he and his children were selling 100 bushels of corn last week at a roadside stand in suburban Oklahoma City. "Sometimes you just need change."

Cornett, the top vote getter, at just under 30 percent, prevailed even though as mayor he pushed for higher taxes, questioned congressional efforts to hastily overturn the Affordable Care Act, supported a local gay rights ordinance and co-wrote a letter with liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urging the federal government to spend more money on transportation and public works projects. He also backed state tax increases to pay for teacher pay raises.

Stitt, a political newcomer who founded a large mortgage company, campaigned as a pragmatic conservative and won just less than a quarter of the vote. He secured a spot in the GOP runoff even though the Tulsa World reported he had failed to vote in any gubernatorial election dating back to at least 1999. His support for broad criminal justice restructuring, including freeing some nonviolent offenders from Oklahoma prisons, also didn't seriously hamper him in the GOP primary.

The two will probably emphasize conservative positions as the runoff nears, since it is expected to draw fewer voters, who lean more conservative, than the June primary, but voters' attraction to some level of moderation overall seemed clear.

The primary attracted more than 450,000 Republican voters - nearly double the turnout from four years ago - as Oklahoma also decided a state referendum to legalize medical marijuana. It passed with 56 percent of the vote, even though a coalition of religious conservatives and local sheriffs vigorously opposed it.

GOP primary voters also ousted two Tulsa-area state legislators who voted against tax hikes to fund teacher pay raises. Seven other anti-tax GOP legislators were forced into runoffs against more moderate challengers.

The dynamic in Oklahoma echoes ongoing GOP battles in neighboring Kansas, another heavily Republican state where conservatives have faced backlash over their refusal to raise taxes.

In Oklahoma, the growth of the state's two largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, have strengthened the moderate hand.

According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Oklahoma Policy Institute, almost half of Oklahoma's 77 counties have lost population over the past century. The state's growth is now centered in urban areas, where two-thirds of residents reside.

The population of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area increased 10 percent to 1.3 million residents over the past decade. In areas closest to downtown, well-educated millennials and Hispanics - who now make up more than half of the students in Oklahoma City public schools - are responsible for much of the population growth, according to city officials.

Cornett, who was a popular television sports anchor before being elected mayor in 2004, worked to diversify an economy once heavily dependent on oil and natural gas industries.

In 2009, he campaigned aggressively for a 1-cent increase in the sales tax to fund $771 million in economic development and wellness projects. (He also made headlines for inspiring a citywide diet, in which he claims 47,000 residents lost a combined 1 million pounds.)

The sales tax revenue has paid for a $228 million downtown convention center and nearby 70-acre park, and a seven-mile streetcar system that connects downtown with neighborhoods transformed with new apartments and condominiums.

Another $45 million was spent constructing a man-made white-water rafting and kayaking center along the waterfront, which is billed as the first facility of its kind in the heart of an American city.

That sort of public works spending traditionally hasn't been associated with Republicans, but in last month's primary, Cornett racked up big margins throughout the 34-county Oklahoma City television media market, which makes up about half the state's population.

"Historically, we were dominated by very conservative, rural voters. But now our urban areas are changing, and Mayor Cornett represents that," said Roy Williams, president of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "It's a much more moderate, and not much of a my-way-or-the-highway approach."

In a western Oklahoma City neighborhood, 83-year-old Mary Perdue lives a few hundred yards from a new eight-mile bicycle and walking trail that connects several vehicle-centric neighborhoods of single-family homes, strip malls, automobile dealerships and fast-food restaurants.

Although she considers herself to be a committed conservative, Perdue said she is supporting Cornett because "he's creative" and has a vision that will draw "young people" to the state.

"He has done an excellent job as far as building downtown, and he did what he set out to do," said Perdue, a retired schoolteacher.

In an interview, Cornett said Oklahoma voters view spending on public education and health care, among other things, as an "investment."

"You cannot wait for someone from the outside to save your city, and state. You have to do it yourself," Cornett said.

Stitt hopes to distinguish himself from Cornett by opposing tax increases, which he thinks still resonates with rural voters who could prove decisive in the runoff.

"The typical politicians and guys I am running against, their first move is raising taxes without any kind of reforms or efficiencies," said Stitt, who easily carried the 20-county Tulsa media market in the primary.

But Bill Shapard, Oklahoma's preeminent pollster, said recent surveys showed the state's Republicans have adopted a very nuanced view of taxes. Even though a plurality of Oklahoma Republicans said taxes are too high, nearly two-thirds of them supported tax increases to pay teachers, Shapard said.

Oklahoma Democratic leaders appear to be rooting for Stitt, believing Cornett's base in Oklahoma City would put the Democratic nominee, former attorney general Drew Edmondson, at a disadvantage in November. Many GOP strategists think Edmondson, who repeatedly challenged the tobacco industry and other corporations when he was attorney general, will make the general election highly competitive.

At Oklahoma City's botanical garden, Michael Dotson, 66, and his wife, Victoria, 65, said they remain undecided in the GOP runoff. The Republican couple also isn't ruling out voting for Edmondson in November.

After retiring, the couple recently sold their house in the suburbs and moved into a condominium in downtown Oklahoma City. Although they are no fans of taxes, what they want most of all, they said, is a government that works.

"We are just weary of doing nothing in our state," said Michael Dotson. "And we think we have the possibility of doing incredible things."

Britain's queen is counting her swans in a ritual with much poop and circumstance

By William Booth
Britain's queen is counting her swans in a ritual with much poop and circumstance
Crews raise a toast to the queen on the first day of Swan Upping in England on July 16, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Tori Ferenc

STAINES-UPON-THAMES, England - By ancient law and custom, the queen is entitled to claim ownership of any wild swan paddling in her vast realm. This is because mute swans were viewed as royal birds, symbols of high status, and once-upon-a-time aristocrats enjoyed roasting the young ones for Christmas feasts. Yum!

Much has changed since 1186 - the goose has swapped places with the swan on the holiday carving board - but one ritual that has survived into the 21st century is the annual Swan Upping, the atavistic, bizarre but wonderful count of the mute swan population along the Thames River.

Each year, in the third week in July, grown men in white pants squeeze themselves into brightly varnished skiffs and, commanded by the Swan Marker to Her Majesty the Queen, a hearty 68-year-old bloke named David Barber, who sells boat engines, they row up the Thames and wrangle the swans to shore for inspection, marking and counting.

As far as poultry tourism goes, watching Swan Upping cannot be beat: These snowy white beasts, with their long curved necks, are truly elegant waterfowl. They're also super-territorial and, despite the official name of the species, anything but mute. They hiss and snort and holler.

This week, as the queen's swan wranglers made their way past Penton Hook Lock, the watermen cried out "All-Up!" signaling they'd spotted a pair of adults - he a cob, she a pen - with a half dozen downy gray cygnets.

In quick order, the skiffs surrounded the swans and herded them toward shore. The crew members grabbed the birds by the necks and torsos, plucked them from the river one by one and, while steadying the swans against the floor of the boats, tied the birds' legs behind their backs with lengths of shoe lace.

This operation is not for the timid, and best done with speed and decisiveness.

At The Swan pub on Monday, one of the oarsmen, Roger Spencer, 54, was hoisting a few pints before luncheon, when he told me that an adult that morning had gnashed him on his belly with a claw, which protrudes from the bird's webbed feet.

"It's the claws you watch for," he advised.

You might think it'd be the powerful wings or the honking big beak, but no.

"They eat grass. There's nothing to the beak. A little serrated edge," Spencer said. "They might nibble you a bit, but that's it."

The swans, surprisingly, were pretty chill after they were caught. The young made anxious piping noises, but the adults - famous for their fierce guardianship of the brood - remained regal and unruffled. Mostly, they voided their bowels, sat patiently in a pile of their own poop and allowed venturesome children to pet their feathers.

The queen's swan man, bedecked in a scarlet jacket embroidered in gold, took extra care not to soil his splendid uniform. "I've got enough gold braid that if I fell into the river, I'd drown," said Barber, who had tucked a large swan feather into his naval cap. He applied for this job 25 years ago. His predecessor, Capt. John Turk, was memorialized with a riverside bronze statue.

The oarsmen - some representing the queen, the others from the old trade organizations of the Vintners and Dyers - rowed past Windsor Castle, through the various locks, alongside stubborn bits of remnant wild land and the reeds the swans need for their nests.

It is called the Swan Upping, Barber explained for the thousandth time, "because we row up the river and pick up the swans."

In olden times, the upping took place all over England, with hundreds of boats and gamesmen plying all the major rivers and tributaries.

Swans likely populated England after the last ice age. The bones of mute swans can be found here in trash heaps from the Roman conquest. From the 12th century, there began an elaborate system of ownership, with the crown granting special license to landed lords and special institutions, such as the universities, abbeys and livery companies, to husband the swans.

The lucky few who were granted permission, and paid fees, marked their swans' beaks with nicks of a sharp knife - hieroglyphs of triangles, crosses, dots and bands, which were recorded on rolls of velum.

By 1378, there was an Office of the Keeper of the King's Swans. By 1405, no one could own a swan unless given permission by the crown. By 1547, it was illegal to mow the grass within 40 feet of a nest, according to Arthur MacGregor's research published in the journal Antropozoologica.

Miscreant yeoman who poached a swan egg, or harassed nesting swans, or - heaven forbid - ate a swan could be punished by a year and a day in jail.

Now the upping is limited to six boats and a 79-mile stretch of the Thames River between Sunbury Lock and Abingdon Bridge, and nobody eats the birds.

"It's all about education and conservation today," Barber said.

This all takes place a 45-minute train ride west of central London, in exurban fringe villages, Theresa May country, which exudes the simulacra vibe of ye ole England - populated by quaint riverside pubs, arthritic Labradors and garden fetishists. A few miles away are dreary auto shops and dying high streets. Above is the 24/7 roaring flight path of nearby Heathrow International Airport.

"So glad to be here and see it," said Richard Poad, 70, a retired airline pilot who lives nearby aboard his houseboat, Otto.

"The tradition is wonderful and it's important to educate the young," Poad said, remarking that the swans have been harassed by "the hooligan element" armed with air rifles.

He was impressed by professionalism of the uppers. He recalled that a generation ago, the annual count was "was more of a drunken pub crawl."

On Monday, opening day, a press boat accompanied the upping. At Romney Lock, the crews hoisted their glasses for a photograph, drank a tot of rum and hailed, "The queen!"

They counted 33 cygnets in eight broods by the time they reached Eton College. "Not bad at all," Barber said.

On the lawns, the teams laid the trussed birds side by side, weighed them and gave them a quick inspection. (The most common problem for the swans is becoming entangled in plastic trash or fishing line, and the uppers can usually free them on site.)

Then the swans were divvied up between those belonging to Queen Elizabeth II and the Vintners and Dyers guilds. The crown usually claims half of the new cygnets. And so, on this first day, 17 of 33 of the juveniles went to the queen and remained unmarked, the others went to the guilds and were awarded a numbered ring on their webbed feet.

The whole ritual is aided by Oxford professor Christopher Perrins, the queen's Swan Warden.

Studies of swan mortality by Perrins and colleagues discovered that the small lead pellets used by fishermen to weight their lines were being consumed by the swans and slowly poisoning them.

After a lead ban in the late 1980s, the swans rebounded and the population doubled in size. Now the numbers have mostly leveled off, though Perrins warns the swans are still threatened by aggressive dogs, habitat loss, non-native mink, reckless boaters and, for the first time this year, a nasty strain of avian flu, which decimated some of the Windsor Castle flocks.

An earlier authority on swans, Norman Ticehurst, observed in 1926 that the royal license required to keep swans, alongside the annual upping, conducted and recorded over centuries, probably saved the birds. He praised the system as "one of the most interesting experiments in combined bird protection and aviculture that England has produced."

The Oxford professor agrees. The aristocrats craved the status that a pair regal swans in the castle moat or manor lake could afford them. "It is rare to preserve such a big edible, easily caught bird in a heavily populated area," he said. "If it weren't for the snob appeal of owning swans, we probably wouldn't have them."

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Despite Trump's acquiescence to Russia, our resilient intelligence community will 'get on with it'

By david ignatius
Despite Trump's acquiescence to Russia, our resilient intelligence community will 'get on with it'


(Advance for Friday, July 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 7th graf, 2nd sentence: "Hoffman says, is summarized in a phrase popular among Russian intelligence operatives" sted "Hoffman says, is summarized in the phrase"


ASPEN, Colo. -- The American intelligence community has never faced a problem quite like President Trump -- a commander in chief who is suspected by a growing number of Republicans and Democrats of deferring to Russia's views over the recommendations of his own intelligence agencies.

"There are almost two governments now," worries John McLaughlin, a former acting CIA director. He discusses the Trump conundrum with the same vexation as a dozen other former intelligence officials I've spoken with since the president's shockingly acquiescent performance onstage Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

How are current intelligence chiefs handling this unprecedented situation? They are operating carefully but correctly, trying to balance their obligations to the president with the oaths they have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution. The officials continue to serve the elected president, but they are also signaling that they work for the American people.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, admirably rebuffed Trump on Monday, a few hours after the president seemed to accept Putin's denial of meddling in the 2016 election. Coats gave the White House a heads-up, but he didn't clear his statement. He believed it was essential to defend the intelligence community immediately.

FBI Director Christopher Wray made a similar show of independence here Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum, saying the Russia investigation wasn't a "witch hunt," as Trump claims, and affirming: "Russia attempted to intervene with the last election, and ... it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day."

The brazen contempt that Putin has shown for America is an extraordinary feature of this ultimate spy story. In Helsinki, Putin publicly affirmed that he had supported Trump and evaded a question about whether he had compromising information on him; in their private meeting, he asked for Trump's help in questioning a former U.S. ambassador, Michael McFaul, with Trump's promise he would study the matter.

Putin, the ex-KGB officer, has described himself as a specialist in dealing with people, according to Dan Hoffman, a former CIA station chief in Moscow. Putin's tradecraft, Hoffman says, is summarized in a phrase popular among Russian intelligence operatives: "What makes a person breathe?"

Putin seems to have an uncanny sense for how Trump breathes. That has led some observers to speculate that perhaps Trump is a controlled Russian agent. This seems unlikely to me, partly because the Russians would never allow a true mole to take such crazy risks of exposure. "He's not a controlled agent because if he was, they'd tell him how to behave so as not to endanger himself," observes a former head of CIA operations against Russia.

No, Trump is something different. The phrase "useful idiot," attributed to Vladimir Lenin, is often used, but the technical Russian term for an often unwitting but helpful asset is a "confidential contact." What Trump offers Russia isn't the information he knows, but his role as a human wrecking ball against America's traditional allies and trading partners.

What will be different in the spy world, in the aftermath of this jaw-dropping week? Probably not much. Intelligence agencies are resilient; they "get on with it," as legendary CIA Director Richard Helms liked to say. The president remains the first customer, and most veterans of the spy world can't imagine withholding information from him. Officials may be more cautious, briefing especially sensitive details first to the national security adviser, say, or cautioning the president that he doesn't want to know how a piece of information was obtained.

What about the agents who are risking their lives in Moscow or Beijing to spy for America? Will they balk now? Again, probably not: Spies have deep reasons for working for America, positive and negative, and they know the risks they're taking. Agents who have helped America because it represented something different from Putin's authoritarianism may have second thoughts, however. That's the hidden intelligence cost of Trump's presidency; we're a less admirable nation.

Will foreign spy services that share sensitive intelligence through what's termed "liaison" reduce the flow? Once again, probably not. Their relationships with the CIA, FBI, NSA and other agencies go back so many decades that cooperation is almost hard-wired. If Trump continues to speak of the European Union as a "foe," or to undermine British or German politicians he doesn't like, that cooperation could eventually change. But our foreign partners need U.S. intelligence, however much they dislike Trump.

"At the end of the day, our work is what endures," Wray said here. His commitment to the law and the facts offered a moment to appreciate that Trump is checked, not by some imaginary "deep state," but by patriotic men and women doing their jobs.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

U.S.-Russian relations might have been destined to deteriorate

By fareed zakaria
U.S.-Russian relations might have been destined to deteriorate


(Advance for Friday, July 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Zakaria clients only)


NEW YORK -- Donald Trump's press conference Monday in Helsinki was the most embarrassing performance by an American president I can think of. And his preposterous efforts to talk his way out of his troubles made him seem even more absurd. But what has been obscured by this disastrous and humiliating display is the other strain in Trump's Russia narrative. As he recently tweeted, "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity." This notion is now firmly lodged in Trump's mind and informs his view of Russia and Putin. And it is an issue worth taking seriously.

The idea that Washington "lost" Russia has been around since the mid-1990s. I know because I was one of the people who made that case. In a New York Times Magazine story in 1998, I argued that "central to any transformation of the post-Cold-War world was the transformation of Russia. As with Germany and Japan in 1945, an enduring peace required that Moscow be integrated into the Western world. Otherwise a politically and economically troubled great power ... would remain bitter and resentful about the post-Cold-War order."

This never happened, I argued, because Washington was not ambitious enough in the aid it offered. Nor was it understanding enough of Russia's security concerns -- in the Balkans, for example, where the U.S. launched military interventions that ran roughshod over Russian sensibilities.

I continue to believe Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton missed an opportunity to attempt a fundamental reset with Russia. But it has also become clear to me that there were many powerful reasons why U.S.-Russian relations might have been destined to deteriorate.

Russia in the early 1990s was in a period of unusual weakness. It had lost not just its Soviet-era sphere of influence but its 300-year-old Czarist empire. Its economy was in free fall; its society was collapsing. In this context, it watched as the United States expanded NATO, intervened against Russia's allies in the Balkans, and criticized its efforts to stop Chechnya from seceding.

From America's vantage point, locking in the security of the newly liberated countries of Eastern Europe was an urgent matter. Washington worried that war in Yugoslavia was destabilizing Europe and producing a humanitarian nightmare. And the U.S. could not condone Russia's brutal wars in Chechnya, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and much of the region destroyed. The United States and Russia were simply on opposite sides of these issues.

In addition, by the late 1990s, Russia was moving away from a democratic path. Even under Boris Yeltsin, the bypassing of democratic institutions and rule by presidential decree became common. Democratic forces in the country were always weak. The scholar Daniel Treisman has shown that by the mid-'90s, the combined tally for all liberal democratic reformers in Russia's Duma elections never went above 20 percent. The "extreme opposition" forces, by contrast -- communist, hyper- nationalist -- received on average around 35 percent. And once Putin came to power, the move toward illiberal democracy and then outright authoritarianism became unstoppable. Putin has never faced a serious liberal opposition.

An authoritarian Russia had even more areas of contention with the United States. It panicked over the "color revolutions," in which countries like Georgia and Ukraine became more democratic. It looked with consternation at the establishment of democracy in Iraq. These forces, by contrast, were being cheered on by the United States. And to Putin, George W. Bush's "freedom agenda" might have seemed designed to dislodge his regime.

Perhaps most crucially, by the mid-2000s, steadily rising oil prices had resulted in a doubling of Russia's per capita GDP, and cash was flowing into the Kremlin's coffers. A newly enriched Russia looked at its region with a much more assertive and ambitious gaze. And Putin, sitting atop the "vertical of power" he had created, began a serious effort to restore Russian influence and undermine the West and its democratic values. What has followed -- the interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, the alliance with Bashar Assad in Syria, the cyberattacks against Western countries -- has all been in service of that strategy.

So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early '90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago, and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The 'deep state' stands between us and the abyss

By eugene robinson
The 'deep state' stands between us and the abyss


(Advance for Friday, July 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

WRITETHRU: 5th graf, 1st sentence: "National Intelligence" sted "Central Intelligence" 2ND WRITETHRU: 9th graf, 1st sentence: "Mueller to observe questioning of the 12" sted "Mueller access to the 12"


WASHINGTON -- Before this hare-brained and reckless administration is history, the nation will have cause to celebrate the public servants derided by Trumpists as the supposed "deep state."

The term itself is propaganda, intended to cast a sinister light upon men and women whom Trump and his minions find annoyingly knowledgeable and experienced. They are not participants in any kind of dark conspiracy. Rather, they are feared and loathed by the president and his wrecking crew of know-nothings because they have spent years, often decades, mastering the details of foreign and domestic policy.

God bless them. With a supine Congress unwilling to play the role it is assigned by the Constitution, the "deep state" stands between us and the abyss.

Witness, with horror and shame, Trump's disgraceful performance on the world stage during the past week. The lowest of several low points was his joint appearance Monday in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who smirked with obvious glee as the president of the United States soiled himself. Metaphorically, I mean.

Trump said that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other officials had told him "they think" Russia meddled with the 2016 election. But Putin issued an "extremely strong and powerful" denial when the two leaders met privately, and Trump concluded that "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia. Coats fired back within hours, issuing a statement that reiterated the intelligence community's consensus view, which is not "we think" but "we know." Trump's ridiculous claim Tuesday that he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would" amounted to nothing more than a moment of comic relief.

Thanks to a New York Times story published Wednesday night, we now know that the nation's top intelligence officials briefed Trump in detail about the Russian meddling on January 6, 2017 -- two weeks before his inauguration. According to the Times, the officials shared with Trump powerful evidence that the interference, meant to boost Trump's chances of winning, was ordered by Putin himself.

So we know that when Trump casts doubt on Russia's culpability, he's not speaking from a position of ignorance. It's not that intelligence officials have asked him to take their conclusion on faith. They've shown him the goods. He's just lying.

Who were the anonymous sources for the Times story? I have no idea. But if I had spent a career fighting for my country in the secret world, and I heard my president give more credence to the former KGB officer who rules an undemocratic Russia than to his own intelligence chief, I would be angry.

And if I also heard my president welcome what he called an "incredible" offer from Putin -- that he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to observe questioning of the 12 Russian spies he indicted last week if Russian authorities were also allowed to interrogate Americans they speciously accuse of crimes, including a former ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul -- I would be furious and alarmed. I would have to wonder about the loyalty of my commander in chief. And I would have to think about my duty to the nation.

Russian officials have said publicly that they are ready to begin implementing agreements reached by Trump and Putin during their two-hour private meeting, which only one Russian and one American translator were allowed to attend. But according to The Washington Post, in a story also published Wednesday night, high-ranking U.S. diplomatic and military officials did not know what those agreements were.

Did they reach some sort of understanding about nuclear arms? About Syria? About Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea? If you worry, as I do, that Trump may have intentionally or unintentionally given away the store, you have to root for the "deep state" to find out what transpired in that room -- and find ways to reverse or at least mitigate the damage.

Is Trump so obsequious to Putin because his ego will not allow him to acknowledge that the Russian strongman helped him beat Hillary Clinton? Or does Putin have something on him? We will get answers at some point, but we can't ignore what we appear to be seeing right now: ongoing collusion, between Trump and Putin, to impede and denigrate the Mueller investigation. It's happening before our eyes.

Democrats in Congress are powerless; the Republican leadership, spineless. Experienced government officials know that their job is to serve the president. But what if the president does not serve the best interests of the nation?

In this emergency, the loyal and honorable "deep state" has a higher duty. It's called patriotism.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump can shut down his Russia critics with one bold move

By marc a. thiessen
Trump can shut down his Russia critics with one bold move


(Advance for Friday, July 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- If President Trump wants to shut down the critics of his performance this week in Helsinki and strengthen U.S. national security, he can do so with one bold move: Announce he is moving out most U.S. forces currently stationed in Germany and sending them to Poland.

The Polish government recently presented Trump with a formal proposal to move U.S. troops from Stuttgart, Germany, to a new permanent U.S. military base in Poland. Trump should take up Warsaw on this offer.

Moving U.S. troops to Poland would a bold, historic decision on par with Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Not only would it better position American forces, it also would completely flummox Trump's critics in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. After spending the past week accusing him of being Putin's puppet, they would look foolish if they turned around and criticized him for antagonizing Russia. And after attacking him for undermining NATO, they could hardly complain that he is taking unprecedented action to shore up the alliance's Eastern flank.

Such a move would reinforce the tough line the president took on defense spending at last week's NATO summit, by punishing a deadbeat ally that does not meet its NATO commitments and rewarding a steadfast ally that does. Why should Germany -- a country that spends just 1.24 percent of its gross domestic product on defense -- continue to be rewarded with the economic benefit of U.S. bases? Better to station U.S. forces in a country such as Poland that is providing what Trump has called a "truly magnificent" example as "one of the NATO countries that has actually achieved the benchmark for investment in our common defense."

Trump can further argue that Germany's actions beyond its inadequate defense spending have necessitated this move. At NATO, Trump blasted the Germany-to-Russia Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, declaring "it's a very bad thing for NATO." He's right. The pipeline not only makes Germany more dependent on Moscow for energy, it also risks the security of Poland and other Eastern European allies. Right now, all Russian gas exports to Western Europe go through pipelines that cross Poland and Slovakia -- which means Russia cannot cut off gas to NATO allies in the East without also cutting off its lucrative exports to the West. But once the new pipeline is built, sending gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, Russia will be able to shut off energy supplies to Eastern Europe far more easily. Trump can correctly say that he needs to shore up the security of NATO's East European allies because of the German government's sign-off on the pipeline.

The move would also address a major U.S. strategic concern about its ability to deter Russia. The Post recently reported that U.S. military commanders are worried that if they had to quickly move U.S. troops east to head off a military conflict with Moscow, "the most powerful military in the world could get stuck in a traffic jam" as "Humvees ... snarl behind plodding semis on narrow roads" and "U.S. tanks ... crush rusting bridges too weak to hold their weight." Stationing American forces in Poland would alleviate that problem. As the Polish government points out in its proposal, "a U.S. permanent presence in Poland [offers] a more forward operating location than Stuttgart provides, would greatly alleviate well founded fears that fellow Eastern European and Baltic governments have that Moscow would be able to overtake defending forces prior to the support of U.S. and NATO forces in Stuttgart could provide."

The move would also benefit U.S. taxpayers. The Polish government has offered up to $2 billion to cover most of the costs of building such a base and supporting U.S. troops in Poland, declaring it is committed "to share the burden of defense spending [and] make the decision more cost-effective for the U.S. government." This should be attractive to Trump, who has criticized other allies for not paying enough for the cost of stationing U.S. forces on their territory.

And there is one last good reason to do it: Poland loves Trump. When Trump spoke in Warsaw last year, his speech was repeatedly interrupted by chants of "Donald Trump! Donald Trump!" Such response would be unimaginable in Berlin.

The U.S. military presence in Germany is a legacy of the Cold War, when we positioned our forces to deter a Soviet invasion from East Germany. Today the need for deterrence is undiminished, but the potential line of contact has moved east. So should the U.S. military.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Russia's not meddling? Then explain Maria Butina.

By dana milbank
Russia's not meddling? Then explain Maria Butina.



(For Milbank clients only)


WASHINGTON -- The yawning gap between the world as it exists and the world as President Trump sees it was on vivid display Wednesday.

A few minutes after noon, reporters in the White House were being ushered out of a Cabinet meeting they had been allowed to witness. One called out a question: "Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?"

Trump replied with a shake of the head: "Thank you very much. No."

"No? You don't believe that to be the case?"

"No," Trump repeated (though his spokeswoman would try her best later to undo it).

Just over an hour later, a striking young woman, with orange hair and a matching prison jumpsuit, was led, scowling, into Courtroom Four of the U.S. District Courthouse at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. According to the Justice Department -- Trump's Justice Department -- this woman, Maria Butina, is a Russian national who, until her arrest Sunday, "engaged in a years-long conspiracy to work covertly in the United States as an undeclared agent of the Russian Federation." Her "covert influence campaign," directed by a senior Russian government official to advance Russia's interests, involved international coordination, planning and deceit.

How is it possible that Trump can assert that Russia is not targeting the United States -- three days after he suggested it didn't interfere with the 2016 election -- while just a few blocks away, his own administration is prosecuting a Russian for targeting the United States?

Butina did not speak but ran her hands through her long hair as her lawyer said she would be pleading not guilty. She sat, conferring quietly with lawyers, as prosecutors expanded on a written court filing packed with allegations right out of "The Americans": a duplicitous romantic relationship, an offer of sex for employment, a wire transfer to Russia and a possible plan to flee the country or be "exfiltrated" by Russian intelligence.

Butina isn't part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's portfolio (regular Justice Department prosecutors are handling the case), and her alleged activities -- trying to gain access to American leaders through the National Rifle Association, Conservative Political Action Conference and National Prayer Breakfast -- were relatively anodyne. But unlike the Russians indicted by Mueller for hacking the Democratic National Committee and for running a troll farm, Butina is in U.S. custody. Here is possible Russian political meddling -- in the flesh.

In court, DOJ prosecutor Erik Kenerson claimed Butina has ties to the Russian intelligence services and oligarchs and was considered a covert Russian agent by a senior Russian official, believed based on descriptions in the complaint to be Alexander Torshin, deputy director of Russia's central bank.

The 29-year-old Russian, attending classes at American University, was in a relationship with "U.S. Person 1" -- a person who matches the description of Paul Erickson, a 56-year-old Republican political operative -- but prosecutors said Butina, in documents seized by the FBI, complained about living with him. They said she offered another person "sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization."

Kenerson described her as an extreme flight risk, painting a spy-novel scenario of a Russian diplomatic car driving her to the border. (Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll, conceding this theoretical possibility, asked the judge if he could consult with Russian consular officials in the courtroom.)

Kenerson displayed an FBI surveillance photo of her at a D.C. restaurant with a "suspected Russian intelligence operative." He also displayed a photo of Butina at the Capitol on Trump's Inauguration Day, and described an exchange between the two: "You're a daredevil girl," Torshin said in response to the photo.

Replied Butina: "Good teachers!"

Whatever else Butina was, she was a savvy political actor. She believed in March 2015 that Republicans would win the White House, and that, to build "constructive relations" with Republicans, she would use the NRA, which she described as the "central place and influence" in the GOP and "the largest sponsor of the elections to the U.S. Congress." She got to ask Trump about Russia during a 2015 town hall and meet Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA convention.

This is what makes Trump's utterances about Russia impossible to stomach. On Wednesday, even before he claimed Russia isn't targeting America, Trump tweeted that people who "HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin" suffer from "Trump Derangement Syndrome."

No, what they hate is seeing Russia -- still -- infiltrating and undermining the American political process, and an American president who is willfully blind to it as he cozies up to the man responsible.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's foreign policy smashes our defining ideals

By michael gerson
Trump's foreign policy smashes our defining ideals


(Advance for Friday, July 20, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 19, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Setting aside the issue of whether the president is wittingly advancing the interests of a hostile power -- a qualification that is only imaginable in the Trump era -- what is happening to the direction of American foreign policy?

I'm on record saying that the collection of impulses, deceptions, assertions, retractions, revisions and compromises that constitute Trump's foreign policy record are difficult to gather into a consistent doctrine. But we do know what doctrines Trump has set out to destroy.

GOP foreign policy over the last few decades is the outcome of two defining decisions. The first took place in 1952 when the Republican presidential frontrunner, Senator Robert Taft, expressed a lack of enthusiasm toward the NATO alliance. This alarmed NATO's Supreme Commander, Dwight Eisenhower, enough to enter the race and beat Taft soundly.

Most rank-and-file Republicans in the early '50s probably shared Taft's isolationist belief that the world could and should take care of itself. But Eisenhower -- who had seen how the unconfronted disorders of Europe could spill out into world wars that took tens of millions of lives -- found Taft's attitude dangerous. Eisenhower -- and all Republican presidents until Trump -- was committed to Atlanticism and collective security. All believed that giving minor concessions to a hostile power only delayed an eventual reckoning and made it bloodier.

The second decision came in 1980, when Ronald Reagan's election marked the end of Henry Kissinger's reign of (BEG ITAL)realpolitik(END ITAL). Both men were internationalists who understood that America was safer when it engaged the world, acted with allies and shaped the security environment. But while Kissinger tended to see the goal of foreign policy as the stable management of unavoidable rivalry, Reagan saw the objective as the eventual victory of a superior system -- a system of economic and political freedom that delivered better lives and fulfilled the deepest human longings.

In practice, this meant fostering constructive instability on the margins of the Soviet empire -- most successfully in Afghanistan -- in order to intensify its weaknesses. Reagan was firm, but not foolhardy. He was willing to negotiate. But he believed that the American creed gave our country a tremendous, practical advantage. By standing on the side of freedom fighters, dissidents and exiles, Reagan was clarifying a moral choice -- not just between two political systems, but between good and evil. And this, in his view, tilted the tables of history in favor of free nations.

This is the context in which Reagan viewed our trans-Atlantic relationship. In one respect, he saw it as an essential security arrangement. "I can hardly think of another aspect of U.S. foreign policy on which there is broader consensus than our commitment to defend our allies against attack," he argued in a 1983 interview. "We know that our security and that of Europe are bound together."

At the same time, this relationship had a deeper strength rooted in morality. "NATO is not just a military alliance," Reagan said, "it's a voluntary political community of free men and women based on shared principles and a common history. The ties that bind us to our European allies are not the brittle ties of expediency or the weighty shackles of compulsion. They resemble what Abraham Lincoln called the 'mystic chords of memory' uniting peoples who share a common vision."

Reagan viewed that vision as a reason for confidence. "The source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual," he declared. "And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man."

So let us take an account of what is being smashed by Donald Trump. In viewing our European allies as a "foe" intent on exploitation, Trump is smashing an alliance that has encouraged peaceful relations within Europe and jointly resisted terrorism and Russian aggression. By questioning NATO's Article 5 and the principle of collective security, he is smashing a system that has turned a continent prone to war and genocide into a flawed but functioning community of free nations. By ignoring and denying the moral power of American ideals and expressing a deeply un-American dictator envy, Trump is smashing our sense of national mission along with the hopes of oppressed people everywhere.

And for what? For a form of extreme nationalism that serves someone else's nation? For a definition of strength that trades away the tremendous advantage of our defining ideals? This is a work of demolition without the inconvenience of new architecture. Yet among his Republican supporters, none dare call it idiocy.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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