Fascism: As polling turns against him, Trump lays groundwork for mass violence

Rattled by poor polling numbers in his reelection bid, the alleged president of the United States is encouraging domestic terrorism. That's where we're at, and everyone from top national security experts to local emergency officials are all crystal clear on that. The New York Times reports from a bunch of 'em in a piece that can both contain remarkable factual phrases like "Mr. Trump has descended into rants about perceived enemies" and still somehow soft sell the underlying message:

The nation is preparing for violence on and after Election Day because Donald J. Trump, a fascist, is goading his supporters into that violence with rally claims that any loss on his part will be proof that his enemies cheated.

There is no possible chance that Trump doesn't know what he's doing. His tweeted calls to "LIBERATE" states from governors who imposed widespread pandemic measures resulted in a Michigan militia attempting to do exactly that. Trump is back at it even today, claiming their primary target, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, "wants to be a dictator." He is attaching the legitimacy of the state to calls for mob action—only to repeat those calls when it looks like the first versions are beginning to bear fruit.

The only reason he is not being treated as a radical, dangerous figure who has irreparably violated his own oath of office, necessitating removal, is because Republican Party leadership and lawmakers have themselves embraced and defended those violations. It is self-radicalizing; the farther Trump goes into overtly authoritarian behavior, the more pressure the party feels to defend and normalize their own support for him. The more Trump's circle has succeeded in isolating and excising state and local functionaries who express alarm at his grotesqueries, the more the party has become a homogenized group of anti-democracy, authoritarian-molded radicals themselves.

Trump has clearly been unfit for office in every respect; the impeachment investigation identified his corruption, the pandemic proved his apathetic incompetence, and his continued calls for mob justice against targeted enemies have proven (as have similar quotes repeated through the last five years) that he is not just indifferent to extralegal punishments of his enemies, but publicly fantasizes about them. If Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Attorney General William Barr, Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, Rep. Mark Meadows, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the entire rest of the party had not all decided to ally with him for their own ideological and policy ends, he would have been removed in bipartisan fashion long ago, reduced to a historical footnote.

They didn't, and now local law enforcement officials around the country are preparing for radicals among what Trump has proudly designated his "Army" intent on disrupting Election Day, sabotaging ballot-counting measures, and committing acts of coordinated terrorism targeting his opponents. It's now expected.

Once again we're in a position where the fate of democracy rests on not just beating anti-democratic forces, but doing so in such a convincing fashion that sabotage can't alter the outcome. But now it comes with the near certainty of violence. This is Mitch McConnell's fault: Remember that. This is Lindsey Graham's fault. Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, William Barr. Trump's suggestions to "liberate" parts of America from small-d democratic governance would be intolerable if they believed them to be intolerable. Everything Trump does and will do has happened because they allowed it.

California Republican Party says it won’t take down illegal ‘ballot boxes’ despite state orders

On Monday, it came to light that the California Republican Party was placing what they called "official ballot drop off boxes" in locations deemed to be Republican-friendly (such as, no kidding, "gun stores") in apparent efforts to make it easier for Republican voters to vote than not-Republican voters.

There are two problems with this. First: It's not legal. California law allows voters to designate a person to drop their ballot off at an official location rather than going themselves; it does not allow the "designated person" to be an unattended cardboard box. (And yes, some of the "official ballot drop off boxes" are merely "simple cardboard boxes with no locking security mechanism.")

The second problem is, yes, ballot security. Voters may not be aware that these very much not official "drop off boxes" are managed by unknown Republican operatives, and there's no guarantee the ballots collected in such boxes won't "accidentally" be, to use a recent Trumpian example, dumped into a river. (I kid. Here in California we don't have rivers. They could be dumped into storm drains, though, which would be problematic because all the aspiring sewer actors do not need more lines to practice.) There's nothing to say the ballots the Republican Party claims to be collecting won't be sorted through, perhaps to weed out non-Republican looking names, or otherwise disposed of. That's why California ballot-harvesting laws require a designee.

California officials have now warned the state Republican Party that what they're doing is illegal and may even result in prison time. The Republican Party has responded in the expected way: They don't care, and won't be complying with state demands to remove the boxes.

More specifically, the California Republican Party intends to continue the operation while daring state officials to do anything about it. Party spokesperson Hector Barajas noted that a 2018 state law prohibits election officials from rejecting a ballot solely because it was returned without the required designee signature or relationship to the voter, signaling that the party intends to collect ballots however they want, handle and turn them in however they want, and dare election officials to throw those votes away. Election officials will almost certainly not do that, so here we are.

It's another case of the party's all-encompassing insistence that laws don't matter if bending the law would benefit the party. See also: Dinesh D'Whateverguy, and literally every member of Donald Trump's inner circles, past and present, indicted and not, and the Republican gutting of the Federal Election Commission, and the nullification of election-related impeachment charges against Dear Leader, and take your pick.

And yes, everyone involved is aware of the dichotomy of the Republican Party going to furious lengths to restrict voting access in Texas and other Republican-led states while bending restrictions that they believe are harmful to their own voters. It's not irony, it's fascism.

What California voters need to know right now, however: Do not use those boxes. Don't. California is mailing ballots to all voters; follow the instructions provided to the letter and mail them back. Do not put your ballot in a cardboard box, or a burlap sack, or into the mouth of a large wooden horse that has appeared, overnight, in the empty parking lot of an abandoned mall. Just mail them in, or turn them in where the state itself tells you to.

There's no guarantee that the local Chuckles' Gun Club and Shoebox Votin' Booth will be handling your vote, as America decides between authoritarian rule and democracy, with anything resembling care. The Republican Party is playing fast and loose with the votes of their own most loyal supporters, and that is not something you want to get involved in.

Mike Pompeo is now brazenly campaigning for Trump using his federal post

Prior to ex-House Republican Mike Pompeo becoming Trump's secretary of state, it was generally understood that U.S. secretaries of state were not allowed to use the tools of their office for rank partisan politicking. Using government resources to campaign is illegal; turning the top diplomatic job in the country into a tool of partisanship damages U.S. credibility abroad by signaling, to world counterparts, that the U.S. diplomat is In This For Themselves.

All of that is gone now because Donald Trump simply chose to ignore those constraints, and Republicans—with the singular exception of one Mitt Romney, exactly once—wholeheartedly adopted the same merging of party and state as the new way things are done. This was helped along immensely by Trump's surrounding of himself with hard-right ex-House Republicans contemptuous of the rules from the outset. Mike Pompeo is a poster child for this. He continues to assist Trump in the cover-up of a criminal Ukrainian extortion scheme—one timed to allow Russian incursions into that country to proceed and be solidified while much needed U.S. aid was used to pressure for Trump reelection favors. He continues to abet Trump's incompetent dismantling of U.S. foreign policy infrastructure.

And, of course, Pompeo is using his State Department role to campaign aggressively for Trump and Republicans throughout the country. The premise is that key Trump-supporting demographics and swing states just happen to need conservative foreign policy priorities explained to them by, literally, the top U.S. diplomat—one who admittedly has little else to do since all such policy decisions have been stripped from him and his government agency in favor of the new policy, Whatever Trump Last Said. The reality is that Pompeo is touring the country giving campaign speeches to, as the AP reports, a white evangelical church in Plano, Texas; the hard-right Value Voters Summit; and other appearances in Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and of course his home state of Kansas. Pompeo has famously been eyeing higher office himself—a plan that briefly looked scuttled when Pompeo was implicated in impeachable crimes, but one Pompeo appears to be inching back to with hopes that voters no longer remember or resent him for that now that the Trump administration has delivered at least a half-dozen other scandals and death-dealing clusterfucks for them to chew on instead.

The important thing to remember here is that Pompeo is crooked. He is crooked in the William Barr way, and fairly precisely: He has been caught directly assisting in Trump's impeached-for acts; he has been caught in a campaign to cover up those acts and his involvement for Trump's benefit and his own; he has done each of these things in service of elevating Republican power regardless of legality or institutional norms; and he makes no particular effort to hide the use of his office as explicitly partisan, to be used for shoring up allies and punishing enemies.

While Barr pressures his underlings into producing documents meant to portray Trump's detractors and investigators as the "true" criminals of Russian election hacking while undermining further investigations into Trump and all allies, Pompeo weaves through the country on a heavy campaign schedule to tell conservative audiences that they should "go to the polling place and express your preference" for his hard-right claims and declarations, as AP quoted him telling his Texas audience.

Without dwelling on it: Again, Mike Pompeo using his government perch to address the Republican National Convention—from Israel, no less—was such a grotesque insult to supposed diplomatic nonpartisanship that it would have likely ended with Pompeo's removal from his post during any of the last half-century's worth of presidencies. Republican lawmakers, however, are embracing Pompeo's acts as they are Trump's, and Barr's. There is no Republican caucus demanding Trump adhere to the rule of law, or the Hatch Act, or basic expected decencies.

The whole point of immunizing Trump during impeachment was to enable further corruption. It was the expected outcome. It clearly worked, as Trump's rapid gutting of oversight offices and inspectors showed. We are now at a point where Trump and Barr are openly crafting plans to eliminate votes if the November elections do not go his way, and continue eliminating votes for as long as it takes until the Republican Party can claim a crooked victory.

The reasons are not just to retain power, though; Trump's team and Trump's allies need a victory for more personal reasons. There has been a mountain of criminal acts, cover-ups, ethical violations, and rank corruption from Barr, from Pompeo, from Trump himself, and other Trump cabinet members past and present. The moment they lose power, there is a danger that the remaining shards of true, neutral law enforcement will come for them—and those ex-officials will no longer have means to block those investigations.

Every investigation currently being blocked and corrupted can only be blocked or corrupted so long as the corrupters remain in power. Republicans like Pompeo, still identified as having played a role in international extortion whether his Republican Senate allies are supportive or are not, has no time to worry about laws or norms as he scurries around the country to protect himself from the consequences of his own corruption.

It’s propaganda, not hypocrisy: Republicans use lying as primary governing technique

There is no point in accusing Republican senators of hypocrisy. Absolutely none. Only hours after the death of Supreme Court icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republicans—who had previously gnashed their teeth at the audacity of the suggestion that the nation's first nonwhite president had the constitutional power to make nominations to the court at any point during the final year of his term—began declaring that this time around, obviously that new rule no longer applies. And obviously the president of their own party, impeached and transparently corrupt, must be granted a scrambling court even as voters line up to cast early ballots.

Hypocrisy implies there’s a previous ideology being upset; there wasn't one, and isn't one, and no serious politics-watcher ever thought otherwise. The principle being upheld by Sen. Mitch McConnell and clan then and now was more simple: Retain power using all available tools, and deny the opposition power using all available tools. There is no "ideology" inside the modern conservative movement, either before Trump's arrival or afterwards, that can survive its first brush with expediency. Each argument lasts only as long as the soundbites require and will be replaced with a new one immediately, without hesitation, when required.

Expediency as ideology is not a senate-only device. Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia practiced it with aplomb, often resulting in lawyers and courts using his past words against him in new cases—a futile gesture. Of his "originalist," "textualist," or "institutionalist" allies, the same approach is used by All Of Them.

It's not hypocrisy if the principle all along was "whatever best increases power." And it is irrelevant if it is.

The relevant part is that it is accomplished by lying. The practitioners claim some bold new notion of how the world should work, and it is an absolute, baldfaced, bullshit-laden public lie. Those who watch McConnell or Sen. Lindsey Graham in their public appearances can easily identify, at this point, the schtick that makes up their entire persona.

They look the American public in the eye, and they simply lie to them.

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." pic.twitter.com/quD1K5j9pz

— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) September 19, 2020

It was a lie from the moment he uttered it, and there was not a person in the room who didn’t know it from the outset. The movement is devoted to lying as governing principle. It works because there are countless channels through which those lies can be disseminated, and amplified, and praised. It will continue for as long as it works.

Over and over. About everything, all the time. The Moscow Turtle has never cried a sincere tear in his life, but according to him all Democratic actions are Devastation, all Republican actions are Sorrowfully Required Due To Democratic Existence, and the rest is puppet show. Graham is superb at being outraged in showy defense of the outrageous. Sen. Marco Rubio's usual deployed device is to respond to each act of corruption or depravity with a Bible verse, typically as non sequitur, and wiping his hands of the rest of it. Sen. Susan Collins is forever concerned by gross incompetence or criminality within her movement, and remains equally as concerned the next time around, and will make good on that "concern" exactly zero times as she votes to enable each concerning act one-by-one-by-one.

It's not hypocrisy. They're just liars. Conservatism is a movement of fictions, a series of nonsense falsehoods deployed like a squid ejects ink. Nobody asks the squid whether it stands by the cloud ejaculated in the last crisis. It would be pointless. The squid doesn't remember, and can't tell you.

It is not that the nation is run by a movement of "hypocrites." The nation is run by a collection of liars.

Propagandists.

Those who issue false statements and make false claims relentlessly in order to deceive the public, or to stir their base into new heights of feverishness, or—and this is rather more to the point in this particular year—to justify and endorse criminality in service to the movement. Incompetence, if in service to the movement. A quarter million deaths, if in service to the movement.

The lies are consequential. McConnell and his allies lied their way through the impeachment of a president, simply insisting that the evidence was not evidence and the testimony not testimony. The movement has lied its way through a pandemic, turning even the most rote of pandemic safety precautions—masks, even—into conspiracies and partisan litmus tests.

When Michael Caputo and his aides insisted that children were nearly immune to the virus and could not spread it, it was not ideology. It was a lie meant to keep more of the "economy" open even if the more pertinent metric—deaths—was multiplied.

When the movement claims "antifa"—a group that does not actually exist—is behind police reform protests, it is a lie. It is propaganda intended purely to discredit protestors, and better facilitate state and militia violence against them.

When Sen. Ron Johnson pipelines the work of known Russian operatives into his committee to declare that he has discovered very serious doings, doings that suggest his opponents are secretly corrupt in ways no American law enforcement has ever been able to find, he is fully aware of his own actions. He is not stupid.

When Attorney General William Barr releases a document that grossly undermines a report on Russian election interference that benefited his party, and follows up by launching conspiracy after conspiracy all premised on the notion that it is American law enforcement that is corrupt for going after Republican targets, he is lying to the public for the sake of the party.

The movement of Republicanism is propagandistic in nature. Lies are deployed towards political ends. All involved know they are lies. All involved spread the lies willingly. Fox News exists as propaganda factory. Donald Trump exists as propaganda factory. McConnell exists as propaganda factory. The sitting attorney general, the president's odd private lawyer—the only through line is relentless lying to the public about everything, all the time, for power.

There's no textualist in conservatism. Nonsense about precedents and institutions is barely even given lip service. There are no "deficit hawks," or "small government" idealism. None of those things have survived. The only takeaway from White House press briefings is a single, fundamental point: These are today's lies. If you don't like them, there will be others tomorrow.

There is a word for all of this. Declaring that your leaders are allowed to commit crimes while demanding the arrest of enemies on false charges; the rejection of facts and the explicit declaration that the free press is an enemy of the people for presenting information that conflicts with the state's own preferred interpretations; the altering and realtering of supposed norms so that the opposition is, invariably, declared to be out of control in their requests, so out of control that it is now necessary to alter the rules of government to properly constrain them:

It is authoritarianism. The party is a propaganda movement devoted only to self-preservation. There is not a stitch of prior ideological principle that will survive from 2016 to 2020—or from 2018 on a Monday to 2018 on a Tuesday. The rules are whatever they need to be to suppress the movement's perceived enemies. Not merely for a desperately needed Supreme Court seat, but for the now-existential election and all its myriad details.

House Democrats summon Trump Postmaster General to explain sabotages, may return from recess early

The sudden collapse of the United States Postal Service's ability to do their core job—deliver mail—is now so widespread a problem as to be stoking widespread public outrage. This may finally result in substantive congressional action—sort of. Perhaps.

House Democrats are now asking (but not subpoenaing) Trump Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on August 24th to explain his actions. DeJoy, who remains heavily invested in for-profit competitors to the USPS even as he guts federal mail delivery capabilities, was previously scheduled to appear on September 17; moving his appearance up by several weeks is an indication that Congress no longer thinks waiting until mid-September is defendable. Democrats ask that DeJoy confirm his plan to appear by tomorrow; DeJoy has also been asked to deliver requested documents by Friday, August 21.

The House is putting off the "urgent" hearing until August 24 "to give Committee Members adequate notice to prepare for your testimony" but also "to avoid conflicting with the Republican convention" beginning later that evening." Which is nice, given that DeJoy is a Republican megadonor who no doubt needs to (virtually) mingle at the now-virtual gathering.

While House Democrats' non-subpoena-based request for DeJoy's testimony gives mixed signals as to just how "urgent" Congress believes the intentional pandemic sabotage of the USPS truly is, there are other signs Congress may begin to move more rapidly. CNN reports that House Democrats are "seriously" considering calling the House back into session "as early as" this week to take actions to protect post offices. "Members are getting heavily criticized in their districts during this recess period for not coming back and trying to do something," notes CNN.

It is not clear what remedies may be plausibly available to the House. The Republican-held Senate is likely to continue to back Trump's sabotages of the USPS, moves he has explicitly said are meant to harm mail-in voting efforts, for the same reason the Senate refused to examine impeachment charges against Trump for using federal funds to extort a foreign nation into providing election help: to assist their own re-elections.

But that's becoming a more and more dangerous move to make. The United States Postal Service is one of the government services Americans most interact with, and the sabotage is creating nationwide problems that Americans are now witnessing in large numbers. Urgently needed medication taking weeks to arrive; "overnight" deliveries of live animals being delayed by over a week; checks, bills, and packages that once took mere days to ship now delayed for a month, or longer; it is untenable for both businesses and individuals. And people are getting furious.

Republican estimations that restricting vote-by-mail will prevent more Americans from casting ballots than are spurred in anger to vote against Republican incumbents come hell or high water or pandemic—it is certainly an all-or-nothing play.

Democrats are also requesting Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, currently engaged in an intentional effort to pipeline Russian election disinformation to benefit Trump, to summon DeJoy to testify about USPS sabotage to his own controlling Senate committee. Johnson, however, is a traitor to this nation, and is therefore certain to refuse.

As Republicans itch over next possible Supreme Court vacancy, Democrats mull countermeasures

When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February of 2016, Senate Republicans discovered a heretofore unidentified, now-infamous caveat to President Barack Obama's constitutional powers: Black presidents aren't allowed to fill vacant Supreme Court seats during an election year. The Senate refused to even consider the nomination of Merrick Garland, who was put forward by Obama for the role; instead, the seat was simply left vacant for the duration of Obama's term. When Republican Trump was installed as president the next year, the Senate swiftly confirmed his own conservative nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fawning Trump golf partner Sen. Lindsey Graham, among others, have not been shy in declaring that the previously made-up rule no longer applies under Trump. On the contrary, they say the Senate would move swiftly to confirm any last-minute nominees if a vacancy were to arise in the last months of Trump's calamitous term. The recent diagnosis of liberal court icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with liver cancer (she is by all accounts being successfully treated) is putting new focus on these Republican court-packing inventions and un-inventions—and is pushing Democratic senators to more seriously consider expanding the court to rebalance it in the face of blatant Republican sabotages.

Whether Democratic senators will have the guts to actually do the thing remains an open question. But Sen. Tim Kaine—not exactly a liberal firebreather—is among those now open to expanding the Supreme Court if McConnell, Graham, and the others are insistent on undoing their own supposed ban on election-year nominees, notes NBC:

"If they show that they're unwilling to respect precedent, rules and history, then they can't feign surprise when others talk about using a statutory option that we have that's fully constitutional in our availability."

Unfortunately, that is phrased as a threat that depends on if Republicans go any further than they already have, rather than an observation about just how far they have already gone. The Democratic National Committee may go farther; they’re planning to make a call for "structural" court reforms part of the party platform.

The current Supreme Court has lost its legitimacy, and for structural rather than ideological reasons. The blocking of an Obama justice under a newly invented partisan rule that was discarded immediately afterwards put Neil Gorsuch on the court illegitimately; the Republican Senate's role in hiding evidence during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings was a near-perfect runup to the fiasco of discarded impeachment charges against Trump, not because anyone was willing to argue that Trump did not do the political extortion he was charged with but because Republican senators declared they simply did not wish to hear any evidence either way. The court is a product of the same Republican corruption that has debased the rest of Washington, and the nation. The party broke it.

“It would be very dangerous for Americans to begin to believe the Supreme Court was not the legitimate arbiter of our nation's laws,” we often hear. True, but that ship has sailed. The Supreme Court is a parody of itself already; you cannot even make good money making bets as to which conservative justices will discard their own precedents and proclamations to bend each new argument towards the preferred "conservative" outcome, because everybody else also knows that the core of conservative justices will make those flips of logic whenever the need arises. Pointing it out is now a consistent feature—and perhaps the most consistent feature—of non-conservative dissents.

It is true that Trump replacing any Supreme Court position in the next few months would quickly blossom into yet another crisis of government as the Senate swiftly erased whatever self-declared impediments were thrown up in the past, the whole of America watched it happen, and a good chunk of America came to the conclusion that the Supreme Court was now simply a structural appendage of the Republican Party. Again, though: ship, sailed. Watching the Kavanaugh nomination and listening to McConnell's unending carousel of new-rules-that-are-not, does anyone think the Supreme Court is not that appendage right now?

Asked whether Trump wants election delayed, will accept foreign help, Trump team refuses to say

It was another typical day on the Sunday shows, the place where America's most powerful people congregate to, for the most part, brazenly lie to us. Today's version came with one thing that the Trump team Very Much wants to talk about—banning social media app TikTok—and several they very much did not.

The two things they didn't want to talk about: Whether Donald Trump has asked his staff about delaying the November elections, and whether Trump's White House and/or campaign will accept foreign "assistance" in defeating former Vice President Joe Biden.

WATCH: Trump adviser Jason Miller is asked three (3) times whether the Trump administration or campaign would accept foreign assistance in this election. Three (3) times, he refuses to say no. pic.twitter.com/Kcgm021pHP

— DNC War Room (@DNCWarRoom) August 2, 2020

That Trump campaign creature and deadbeat dad Jason Miller was so aggressively unwilling to answer straight-up whether the Trump team would be willing to accept foreign election assistance to beat Biden, on Fox News Sunday, is probably not surprising. Miller instead called it a "silly question," which to his credit is true: Trump himself faced impeachment for extorting a foreign government to provide such help, using the tools of his office, so pretending there is some remaining doubt about whether Trump and his team of people who did such a thing would do such a thing is indeed "silly."

This one is on Fox host Chris Wallace. If you book the oozing gastropod Miller on your show, you know what you're going to get: Lying. Gaslighting. Dear Leader-isms a-plenty. And you would still talk to him ... why? The point of bringing on a spokesperson who you can be absolutely sure will lie about anything and everything pertinent is what, exactly?

Newest Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, plucked from his House seat after a campaign of vigorously defending Trump from both the thing Trump was impeached over and every last thing he wasn't, had his own moment of not-gonna-answer-that when asked on Face the Nation whether Trump, after suggesting in a tweet that the presidential election be delayed, asked "you or anybody else in the administration to look into" delaying it.

Meadows couldn't answer that one. Or rather, wouldn't answer that one, instead swerving to attacks on pandemic vote-by-mail efforts with the usual aplomb of a treasonous dirtbag man with no particular attachment to seeing those elections happen. He can't answer whether Trump administration members were specifically asked, by Trump, if there was a way to delay the elections? Really now?

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows doesn't answer John Dickerson's question about "did the president ask you or anybody else in the administration to look into the idea of delaying the election day?" pic.twitter.com/dclXhW8ZcE

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 2, 2020

If you can't give an emphatic no to that one, we can all read between the lines. All right then, so it's come up.

None of this bodes very well for the elections, of course. Meadows was among the House Republicans most willing to be crooked on Trump's behalf back in Congress; presumed foreign agent Rep. Devin Nunes has been getting anti-Biden packets from pro-Russian Ukrainians while ex-House Republican Mike Pompeo, of the same vintage, uses his State Department perch to distribute anti-Biden materials to House Republicans while hiding it from Democrats.

There's a coordinated Republican strategy to manufacture foreign dirt, using pro-Russian foreign forces, to attack Biden with conspiracy theories in the final months of the election so that the best American pal foreign autocrats ever had can cling to power for another four years. From Pompeo to Barr, from Nunes to Meadows to Giuliani to Miller, they're sifting through disinformation to see what they can plausibly use before the press, the American people, intelligence services and federal investigators catch wind of it.

It'll probably be very stupid things, given what Giuliani has presented so far, but that doesn't mean they won't go all-in on the effort. If Trump and his team cannot be bothered to form even a mediocre plan for combatting the pandemic that has now killed 150,000 Americans and which may kill 250,000 before November—and they clearly can’t—then arguing that whoever Trump’s running against would be even worse is the only remaining play.

Democrats ask for FBI briefing on foreign disinformation efforts around Sen. Ron Johnson

Monday, top Democratic lawmakers asked FBI director Christopher Wray to provide classified briefings to Congress on an unspecified but "ongoing" "concerted foreign information campaign" targeting Congress with the aim of disrupting the 2020 presidential elections.

Reporters have now been able to get a bit more information on what those lawmakers have been getting at: Both Politico and The New York Times are reporting that the classified addendum to the letter touches on Sen. Ron Johnson's would-be investigation of Hunter Biden, which has been the pipeline through which Trump "personal lawyer" Rudy Giuliani has been funneling known-false information from his network of Ukrainian criminals and disinformation brokers. Specifically, notes the Times, Sen. Ron Johnson has been relying heavily on a Ukrainian figure thought by the FBI to be a "conduit" for Russian disinformation.

None of this information is new. Johnson's eagerness to solicit testimony from ex-Ukrainian official Andrii Telizhenko was the subject of public alarm and a previous intelligence community warning. Johnson has been dismissive of complaints about his reliance on known dodgy sources, though he was pressured into giving up on the idea of taking Telizhenko's testimony directly.

Reading between the lines here, then, at least one part of Democratic lawmakers’ concerns appear to be that Sen. Johnson is using his committee and "Biden" investigations to legitimize foreign disinformation operations targeting Biden in the 2020 election—or, rather, that at least one foreign disinformation campaign is targeting Johnson, using his eagerness to boost Trump's election chances to dispense election disinformation directly from the mouths of Republican senators.

There are a few things to know here. Most importantly, Johnson cannot claim gullibility in stovepiping foreign disinformation here. After a specific intelligence community warning and after mountains of public reports on the sketchiness of Giuliani's Ukrainian associates, many of whom are pro-Russian Ukrainians forced from their positions by the public and new government, and their debunked claims against their enemies. Johnson has continued to "investigate" information that has already been discredited, and it is clearly intended, like "Benghazi," as means of influencing upcoming elections. Ron Johnson knows precisely what he is doing and who he is dealing with.

So the question is not whether Russian and other foreign disinformation campaigns are targeting Johnson, but the extent to which Johnson is co-conspiring with those brokers to craft and release election-bending smears cooperatively. In his defense, Sen. Ron Johnson is widely regarded as one of the dullest senators in the institution, if not the most dull, and so there is the slightest possibility he does not see himself as coordinating with the disinformation campaign—or, more accurately, does not connect the dots as to what that coordination means, when tied to foreign disinformation sources.

Johnson has long been a puzzle, and that is putting it mildly. He was one of a collection of hard-right Republican lawmakers who inexplicably traveled to Moscow for the Fourth of July, in 2018, and who came back claiming that the Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns in the 2016 presidential elections were being blown "way out of proportion."

There's no particular reason to believe Johnson is not stovepiping foreign disinformation willingly. That was the very premise of Rudy Giuliani's "legal" help to Trump's electoral needs. Johnson was also vociferous in defending Trump when Trump extorted the Ukrainian government by withholding military aid until that government agreed to give a public announcement supporting that disinformation, leading to Trump's impeachment.

What Democrats are not publicly saying, but should, is that Johnson is not acting as target of a foreign disinformation effort, but a co-conspirator. He is a full ally of the Trump-Giuliani-Ukraine-Russia disinformation campaign.

The Pentagon wants to ban the Confederate flag on military bases—but Mark Esper might intervene

Politico reports that top military leaders are "pressuring" Defense Secretary Mark Esper to ban Confederate flags on military bases, and that those officials discussed such a ban at a top-level meeting yesterday. The premise here is that the Pentagon wants Mark Esper to go directly against Dear Dumb Leader, Donald Trump, who most specifically has been campaigning against Confederate flag bans, against renaming military bases to strip the names of Confederate leaders, and against removing statutes of Confederate-traitors-and-the-horses-they-rode-in-on.

Let's all put on our pundit hats and take a guess where Mark Esper is going to come down on this, shall we?

The facts are these: Mark Esper has supported Trump through every rotten thing Trump has done to the military. He stood by while Trump pardoned war criminals and removed top brass who opposed it. He enabled Trump's reach-down to punish a military official who provided damning testimony during the congressional impeachment investigation against Trump. He followed orders to dispatch troops in preparation to sweep Black Lives Matters demonstrators from Washington, D.C. streets by force, if necessary. Mark Esper remains defense secretary right now because he has methodically made sure to keep on Donald Trump's good side, even if keeping on Trump's good side means standing aside while Trump does grotesquely corrupt or anti-American things.

So if the joint chiefs and other top officials are requesting Esper do the obviously decent thing here, but Donald Trump's ever-frothing Twitter feed is absolutely purple-faced with rage against anyone who would dare do such a thing, one would have to be a bit dense to presume Esper was suddenly going to decide the nationwide symbol of slack-jawed white supremacy needed to be given the boot.

Oh, and while the Marine Corps, for example, tried to ban Confederate flags on their own authority, Esper put those policies on hold, ostensibly in preparation for a "department-wide" policy on the matter.

Politico's report also suggests a potential dodge for Esper. Esper could unveil a new policy prohibiting "racially or socially divisive symbols" in general, and the Confederate flag might be counted as one of those "divisive" symbols, perhaps without mentioning it (thus leading individual commands to make the decision without Esper having to do something brave) or perhaps mentioning it in a long list of other "divisive" symbols (in an attempt to water down the impression that the flag was specifically targeted).

Both of those might be plausible evasions in normal bureaucratic times, but Trump is single-minded about the things he chooses to be single-minded about. Any policy—any policy—that Fox News reports has the effect of banning the Confederate flag will send him into fits, and Esper will be blamed.

So this seems to be yet another situation, as in Trump's pardoning of war criminals or Trump's retaliations against military officers, in which Esper must choose between doing the obviously right and decent thing, and chucking that thing in order to polish Trump's boots. The odds that Esper would have stood by while Trump was a rat bastard all the other times, but this issue is the one he'll break from Dear Leader on, seem kind of low.

The Pentagon wants to ban the Confederate flag on military bases—but Mark Esper might intervene

Politico reports that top military leaders are "pressuring" Defense Secretary Mark Esper to ban Confederate flags on military bases, and that those officials discussed such a ban at a top-level meeting yesterday. The premise here is that the Pentagon wants Mark Esper to go directly against Dear Dumb Leader, Donald Trump, who most specifically has been campaigning against Confederate flag bans, against renaming military bases to strip the names of Confederate leaders, and against removing statutes of Confederate-traitors-and-the-horses-they-rode-in-on.

Let's all put on our pundit hats and take a guess where Mark Esper is going to come down on this, shall we?

The facts are these: Mark Esper has supported Trump through every rotten thing Trump has done to the military. He stood by while Trump pardoned war criminals and removed top brass who opposed it. He enabled Trump's reach-down to punish a military official who provided damning testimony during the congressional impeachment investigation against Trump. He followed orders to dispatch troops in preparation to sweep Black Lives Matters demonstrators from Washington, D.C. streets by force, if necessary. Mark Esper remains defense secretary right now because he has methodically made sure to keep on Donald Trump's good side, even if keeping on Trump's good side means standing aside while Trump does grotesquely corrupt or anti-American things.

So if the joint chiefs and other top officials are requesting Esper do the obviously decent thing here, but Donald Trump's ever-frothing Twitter feed is absolutely purple-faced with rage against anyone who would dare do such a thing, one would have to be a bit dense to presume Esper was suddenly going to decide the nationwide symbol of slack-jawed white supremacy needed to be given the boot.

Oh, and while the Marine Corps, for example, tried to ban Confederate flags on their own authority, Esper put those policies on hold, ostensibly in preparation for a "department-wide" policy on the matter.

Politico's report also suggests a potential dodge for Esper. Esper could unveil a new policy prohibiting "racially or socially divisive symbols" in general, and the Confederate flag might be counted as one of those "divisive" symbols, perhaps without mentioning it (thus leading individual commands to make the decision without Esper having to do something brave) or perhaps mentioning it in a long list of other "divisive" symbols (in an attempt to water down the impression that the flag was specifically targeted).

Both of those might be plausible evasions in normal bureaucratic times, but Trump is single-minded about the things he chooses to be single-minded about. Any policy—any policy—that Fox News reports has the effect of banning the Confederate flag will send him into fits, and Esper will be blamed.

So this seems to be yet another situation, as in Trump's pardoning of war criminals or Trump's retaliations against military officers, in which Esper must choose between doing the obviously right and decent thing, and chucking that thing in order to polish Trump's boots. The odds that Esper would have stood by while Trump was a rat bastard all the other times, but this issue is the one he'll break from Dear Leader on, seem kind of low.