Reuters: White House classified COVID preparedness meetings, blocking experts and hampering response

At every possible moment Donald Trump and his team of Republican incompetents chooses the worst possible path. Reuters is now reporting via four administration sources that the White House "has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified."

"The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions" have been held in a secure room—excluding government experts who did not have the requisite security clearances, says Reuters. The administration has literally been keeping coronavirus response discussions secret from some of the government's own experts.

Did it make a difference? It likely did. Reuters quotes an anonymous official as saying "some very critical people" were not allowed in those discussions, which began in January. It also seems evident that the classification was used by the White House, yet again, to withhold information from the public that the White House believed could be damaging to Donald Trump: The news that the now-pandemic was all but certain to arrive here, would have real and damaging effects, and would cost American lives.

This is Sen. Moscow Mitch McConnell's fault, and the fault of the other Republican senators. They knew full well during impeachment that the White House was improperly classifying his discussions with foreign leaders so as to avoid disclosing them to the public. They knew full well he was placing his own interests, and his own ego, over public safety. They gave him full authority to continue doing it.

Trump’s self-absorbed incompetence continues to drive federal coronavirus response

Hello there. It is whatever day of the week it is, and Donald Trump's blazing incompetence is still severely hampering a federal coronavirus response that should have been in full swing many weeks ago.

But don't worry: Things aren't as bad as they seem. The Washington Post reports,"Inside the White House, some officials privately acknowledged Monday that Trump has exacerbated the problem with his misleading and false statements, as well as his callous comments."

See there? We may have lost our only chance to keep a new coronavirus from reaching epidemic levels throughout the nation, but White House staffers are willing to at least privately acknowledge that Trump may be screwing things up, even if they aren't willing to say so publicly. Feel better? No? Huh. Well, they tried.

Since the coronavirus emerged in China, the Trump administration's response has been focused largely on massaging Donald Trump's ego. Trump did not want virus concerns to disrupt the stock market, so Trump played down those concerns. Trump went further, claiming that those warning of the virus' danger were partisans whose only aim was to damage him.

Public officials either went along with these claims or did not—and when they did not, Trump appointed Mike Pence the new head of COVID-19 communications so that the administration's messaging could be better monitored and shaped.

That initial stalling for Trump's own personal benefit may turn out to be tremendously costly. Trump's blustering press conference performance on Monday, speaking almost exclusively in economic terms before bailing from the room early, didn't help. On Tuesday the White House continued to flog economic concerns, suggesting a vague program of tax cuts would soon be revealed but being stubbornly opaque about the status of virus testing and other medical details.

The common refrain throughout from White House officials has been the “bold” and “decisive” decision-making of Dear Leader. Mike Pence lathers it on thick and heavy in every televised appearance: Every decision Dear Leader has made has been bold and decisive and not at all similar to or worse than those of a potted plant. Even now, the primary concern of Trump's White House team is the stability of the notoriously unstable Trump; all other coronavirus concerns are voiced only after the requisite cradle-rocking to soothe Trump's nerves for another few hours.

It might be self-serving on the part of the coronavirus "task force." But it also might be necessary. Trump's incompetence and unwillingness to take the epidemic threat seriously has damaged the public response, but he is still incompetent and unstable, and can still damage the public response much, much more. If he believes public health experts are not properly praising him, he can replace them with full-time toadies, as he has elsewhere in his post-impeachment sweep of insufficiently loyal public officials. If he watches Fox News and sees people being angry about containment measures affecting their lives, he can go on television or on Twitter and demand that containment measures be lessened simply because he believes the public would praise him for it.

Trump's incompetence doesn't just matter. It's the driving force behind the federal government's disaster preparedness efforts, or lack thereof.

That continues, every day. Trump's reluctance to issue an emergency declaration in Washington state, for example, is hampering state efforts to expand medical capacity.

Trump's history of bold, decisive lying matters as well. During a public health emergency in which it is vital that the public believe and listen to health officials, Trump is a literally unbelievable figure. Trump has surrounded himself with liars proven on countless occasions to be willing to lie to the public; the White House has little credibility now, regardless of its declarations. Trump has claimed that any number of world events are "fake news," a conspiracy against him. His mocking dismissals of the seriousness of the virus have already spread to his supporters; will experts be able to reverse any of that damage?

This is what Republicans voted for when they ignored Trump's self-serving behavior, even when it became criminal. This is precisely the sort of national emergency that any president can face, at any moment: Republicans either presumed that this one would not face one, or that he would rise to the occasion (he cannot), or simply made the estimation that the damage done to the nation by having a president incapable of non-self-centered calculations would be worth it, because that damage would not be done directly to them.

That's quite the risk. But they knew, from Mitch McConnell down, that they were taking it.

Trump’s pardons again make a mockery of Republican claims that he ever cared about corruption

Remember how Republicans spent months insisting that Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine not because he wanted to cheat on the 2020 elections but because he really, really cared about corruption? Even though he never mentioned corruption in his first phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? Even though the Pentagon certified that Ukraine was fighting corruption and should get the money?

Ha ha ha, yeah, all those claims Republicans made, against all the evidence, that Trump cared about corruption, and what does he do? Well, first, during his own impeachment trial, Trump stood side by side with a world leader charged with corruption to unveil a major foreign policy plan. Now he’s handing out pardons and sentence commutations to a corrupt politician, a corrupt former law enforcement official, a corrupt lobbyist, and a couple corrupt rich guys. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane all the way back a month or two to hear from Republicans about how much Trump cares about corruption.

Help Democrats retake the Senate! Can you give even $1 to the Democratic nominee in each of these competitive states?

“Corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine. It’s the system. Our president said time out, time out, let’s check out this new guy,” according to Rep. Jim Jordan, during the impeachment inquiry.

”President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign and of widespread corruption in that country,” said Rep. Devin Nunes.

“When it comes to sending US taxpayer money overseas, the president is focused on burden sharing and corruption,” Trump’s impeachment defense insisted.

Had Trump expressed serious concern about corruption anywhere before he turned his eyes to Ukraine? From Sen. Ron Johnson, “If the subject was Ukraine, he’s expressed his concern about corruption in Ukraine, which everybody understood was endemic―including [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky, who won. So I haven’t talked to the president about other countries where that might have come up.”

Again and again they told us that Trump cared so much about corruption that he held up nearly $400 million in aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine and that the Defense Department had signed off on because of Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts. And then Trump goes ahead and commutes the sentence former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich got for trying to sell an open Senate seat to the highest bidder. He plans to pardon former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who committed perjury, tax fraud, and more. 

So it goes. Donald Trump cares about corruption like he cares about anyone not named Donald (or possibly Ivanka) Trump: only when it benefits him to claim he does.

Susan Collins is so concerned about Trump that she’s going to make a sternly worded phone call

The White House better be prepared. It’s going to get a sternly worded phone call from Sen. Susan Collins over the impeached president’s interference in the sentencing of Donald Trump’s buddy Roger Stone after his conviction in federal court. She told reporters that Wednesday, saying that Trump should "play no role whatsoever when it comes to sentencing recommendations" and that he "should not have commented" and that she wished he "would not tweet." No word on whether she's also going to talk about the tweeting on the phone call. But boy, that's sure going to strike terror in Trump's heart.

She also has questions for Attorney General William Barr, she says, but she's not sure if there should be any hearings yet over Trump and Barr turning the Department of Justice into Trump's defense counsel. She wouldn't want to be hasty. Still, a sternly worded phone call might be happening. I'm sure she really wishes it would help. But don't worry, she says, about Trump being "emboldened" by being let off the hook by her and her Republican pals.

Her time's up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

He wasn't acting out because he knows now that there are no limits to his power, now that the Senate will let him do literally anything. It's just him acting like a toddler, she says. He "often acts in an impulsive manner," she explained in a USA Today interview. "I think the president was angered by impeachment and that is reflected in the personnel choices he made," she said. Because that makes it so much better, the fact that he's now a 4-year-old on speed, and it had absolutely nothing to do with her.

No, she's not responsible at all for his behavior now. She was doing her solemn duty and certainly, she told the Bangor Daily News, if the president had committed "treason or bribery," she would definitely have voted to impeach. The House, however, called Trump's treason and bribery in withholding aid to Ukraine in order to force that country to interfere in the presidential election on his behalf "maladministration." So they didn't meet her bar.

But boy, Trump, she better not catch you doing this again, or you'll be in big trouble.

The House must demand Barr testify about Stone intervention—and be prepared to force his compliance

This cannot go on. Three top prosecutors (which may turn into four) in the Roger Stone case have now withdrawn after Attorney General William Barr's Department of Justice ordered them to revise their guideline-based recommendations on Stone's sentencing. This happened the morning after Donald Trump tweeted that he "cannot allow" the prosecutors' recommended sentencing of Stone, an ally and key stonewaller in the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russian government hacking in the 2016 elections.

It is time to haul Barr to the House to explain himself. Immediately. If he refuses a subpoena, then inherent contempt must be used to force his compliance. The House has broad but almost-never-used powers to compel such testimony: This is precisely the dire occasion they were designed for.

Campaign Action

The resignation of three top names from Stone's case signals clearly that the federal prosecutors involved believe Barr has acted with corrupt intent in reaching down to order a reduced sentencing ask. They, too, should be subpoenaed immediately so that they may describe the situation that led to their self-removal. This is an extraordinary situation: Even if a teetering-toward-fascism Republican Party will not so much as pretend at "concern" for Trump and Barr's move, the House can expose it without their assistance.

It must be done. The Department of Justice has within the span of days been turned formally into a tool for "processing" allegations against Trump's political opponents and, now, overriding the sentencing of Trump's criminal allies. Barr will resist, but it must be done regardless.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for the inspector general at the Department of Justice to “open an investigation immediately.” That internal review, however, would be obviously insufficient. Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee and lead House manager in Trump's Senate-stifled impeachment trial, sent out an initial statement calling the reported Barr-Trump intervention a "blatant abuse of power" and, coupled with Trump's retaliatory firings, "the gravest threat to the rule of law in America in a generation." But it does not yet threaten subpoenas.

Schiff is correct in his diagnosis—and now the House must once again act. It is not optional; it cannot be danced around. Barr has committed an act of corruption so blatant that prosecutors have resigned rather than carry it out; he must explain himself under oath.

Giuliani and Barr are smoothing out their partnership on Trump’s extortion and slander pipeline

During the impeachment hearings before House committees, Attorney General William Barr repeatedly stated that he knew nothing about Donald Trump’s Ukraine plot. Barr said that, despite Trump informing Ukrainian officials that Barr would be in touch with them, he had not been. Of course, Barr had been in Rome, trying to promote some of the same conspiracy theories, but that was different.

That was also then. Now that the Republican Senate has given Trump a free pass on using his office for extortion and slander, Barr is no longer pretending that he’s not part of the propaganda machine. On Monday he wasn’t quite confirming reports that he and Rudy Giuliani were coordinating on a defamation pipeline. But as of Tuesday, that’s exactly what’s happening.

As The New York Times reports, Barr says that he isn’t treating Giuliani any differently than he treats anyone else, except for when it comes to … pretty much everything. According to Barr, the Justice Department is obligated to “have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information.” That’s nice. That apparently includes information from people under federal investigation, whose associates are already under indictment, and who are passing along information generated by foreign officials noted for their corruption, at least one of whom has already admitted that he simply made this stuff up to please Giuliani and Trump.

But then, why shouldn’t Donald Trump’s personal attorney have a personal pipeline to the attorney general? After all, Trump has already made it clear that he can overrule the federal justice system, and even a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court, whenever he feels like it. That Article II, it’s one bad article.

As an example of just how like everyone else Giuliani is being treated, The Washington Post reports that a special “intake process in the field” has been set up to review information provided by Giuliani. Giuliani will be spared the trouble of actually bringing his claims to the Department of Justice. Instead, intelligence agencies and the department will “scrutinize” Giuliani’s claims about Trump’s political opponents.

If that sounds a lot like Barr saying that he will use the FBI and other resources to conduct the investigations Trump wants and hone the power of the Justice Department for political persecution, it’s because it’s exactly like that. In fact, the DOJ is already on the case, checking out information Giuliani handed to U.S. attorneys in Pittsburgh.

According to Barr, the Giuliani Pipeline was created so “any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners,” which, again, is indistinguishable in any practical sense from William Barr simply announcing that the Department of Justice is now investigating Joe Biden, with Rudy Giuliani acting as a special agent in the field. 

Just wait for Wednesday. We’ll probably get there.

GOP senators alarmed by firing of Sondland, a Republican donor—but not by the rest of Trump’s purge

We now know that a handful of Republican senators were, in fact, alarmed by Donald Trump's Friday firings of government officials who testified to House impeachment investigators about Trump's Ukrainian extortion scheme. More accurately, we now know that a bare handful of Republican senators were concerned only about the firing of U.S Ambassador Gordon Sondland, while remaining unconcerned by Trump's removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother, who did not testify.

The likely reason? Gordon Sondland, unlike the others, was a big-money Republican campaign donor.

The New York Times is reporting that Republican Sens. Susan Collins (yes, Susan Collins), Thom Tillis, Martha McSally and Ron Johnson contacted the White House to try to halt Sondland's firing. Sondland, who was made a U.S. ambassador after giving $1 million to Trump’s own inaugural fund, was signaling he was planning to resign; the Republican senators wanted Sondland to be given a graceful exit. That was not to be: a vengeful, frothing Trump was insistent on making a public example of him.

Why were the senators concerned about Sondland but not the others? Sondland, reports the Times, was "a donor to Mr. Tillis and other Republicans."

So there you go. We now know the one, the only thing that would get the slightest pushback from the now-fascist Republican Party: Trump humiliating a top-dollar donor. The rest of it they're fine with.

That's not hyperbole. Sen. Susan Collins, in particular, made a special point of telling the Times that her prior "hope" that perhaps Trump would learn a "lesson" from impeachment was excruciatingly narrow. It didn't apply, she explained, to Trump's purge of the witnesses who spoke out to confirm the Trump-Giuliani Ukrainian plot.

“The lesson that I hoped the president had learned was that he should not enlist the help of a foreign government in investigating a political rival,” she told the Times. “It had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not he should fire people who testified in a way that he perceived as harmful to him.”

So yes, Susan Collins is fine with Trump retaliating against those who testified to his "perfect" actions. It was just the Republican donor whose plight roused her enough to make a simple phone call.

Her new statement is, yet again and of course, another reversal of a prior Susan Collins statement of supposed principles. On Friday she told a Maine crowd that "I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence." This new statement clarifies that she is not specifically against such retribution either.

In a non-authoritarian, non-fascist movement, Dear Leader retaliating against those who testified under oath about his own actions would be astonishingly corrupt. It would be close to the very definition of corrupt, in fact. It is now considered an acceptable act, by Republicans, subject to mild private pushback only if the purge happens to touch on one of their own campaign donors. And even the most "moderate" of Republicans, Susan Collins, is now releasing statements clarifying that she is in fact not expressing any concerns about that.

Fascism: Graham says Barr has ‘process’ for Biden probe, Russian investigators ‘going to jail’

Top sycophant Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the Sunday shows, of course, to bask in the Senate's nullification of Donald Trump's impeachment for using the tools of his power to extort the Ukrainian government into providing him "dirt" on a Democratic election opponent. It is not just Trump that appears to feel unleashed; Graham, too, was eager to describe the next steps of the administration-led descent into American fascism.

A first step: The Trump "private lawyer" Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign against the Bidens is now moving into Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department. Whatever Barr’s prior pretenses may have been, Barr is now explicitly establishing the means by which Rudy’s propaganda can be filtered into official “investigations” of Trump’s targeted enemies.

Throughout the House and press investigations into the Ukraine scandal, Trump Attorney General Barr either refused comment or denied that he was involved with the Giuliani efforts, despite Trump specifically naming both Barr and Giuliani as contacts for the Ukrainian president in the "transcript" of Trump's now-infamous phone call. Whether this was a lie or not—and it is almost certainly a direct lie by a complicit Barr—such pretenses have now vanished.

On CBS's Face the Nation, Graham said that the Department of Justice is now "receiving information coming out of the Ukraine, from Rudy." Barr's Justice Department, says Graham, has "created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified."

This means that the president's self-identified "personal lawyer", acting on behalf of known-corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs and ex-officials and in concert with two now-indicted launderers of Russian cash, is now directly channeling conspiracy claims against Trump's election opponent to the U.S. Attorney General's office. There is no longer any pretense of Giuliani's efforts not being state policy.

And this, in turn, means the claims of Russian organized crime-tied Dmytro Firtash, seeking to exchange "dirt" on Biden in exchange for the U.S. Department of Justice dropping his indictments in this country, are now being funneled through Giuliani directly into a Barr-led Justice Department that seems more then agreeable to making such a trade.

That was not the only assertion from Graham that Republicans and the Trump administration would be adopting new fascist policies of targeting and retaliating against Dear Leader's critics and enemies. Just after Trump removed multiple U.S. government officials (and a family member) who testified to the House impeachment committee despite Trump and Barr's standing orders to refuse House subpoenas, Graham indicated that many of those who investigated Trump will be heading to prison.

"We're not going to live in a world where as a Republican you get investigated from the day you're sworn in, three years later they're still coming after you," said Graham, erasing both Whitewater and the Benghazi "investigations" from the nation's history.

"Here's what amazes me. The Russian investigation, what happened? Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail," the Republican told his Fox News host. "And Trump was cleared."

"When? Hopefully," host Maria Bartiromo mugged.

"Well, just hang tight," Graham responded.

We are now well into fascism, and it is the Republican Senate that is not merely looking the other way, but aggressively assisting Trump's team in its implementation. Those that testified against Trump are being removed, despite laws seemingly barring such retaliation. The propaganda efforts against Trump's targeted political foe spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani (financed, it should be noted, from Russia, as previous Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was financed for his own role in manipulating Ukraine towards Russian interests while creating schisms between that country and the west) are now being pipelined directly into Barr's Department of Justice.

Barr, whose department attempted to stifle the Ukrainian whistleblower complaint and worked to sabotage all investigation of Trump, has issued orders that he must be informed of and approve of any new investigations that touch on a 2020 campaign or candidate—both giving him direct access to any information potentially damaging to Trump's foes while maintaining absolute power to block probes of Trump himself.

It is in this environment that Lindsay Graham, who has been one of the prime advocates of Trump's new, law-bending authoritarian powers, has confidence that Trump's prior investigators will be jailed. "Just hang tight," he tells his propagandizing state media host.

It is not likely that John Bolton's book will see the light of day, not with the White House insisting it contains "classified" information that will take an unspecified amount of time to review. It is not likely that the Republican Senate will take any action, even the most minor, to restrain the Trump team in retaliating against witnesses or to block Barr from turning the nation's Justice Department into a tool for smearing, and possibly jailing, Trump's adversaries.

Travel restrictions imposed against the non-compliant. The stifling of official information contrary to Trump's scattershot, often-delusional proclamations. Invented state propaganda. The celebration of pro-state conspiracy and white nationalism promoters. Escalating threats of far-right domestic terrorism.

The only path out, now that Republicans have morphed from a conservative movement to a fascist one, is election turnout so overwhelming as to swamp even these new, myriad election-rigging efforts. And even that may not be enough.

Here's Lindsey Graham telling CBS that Attorney General Barr has "created a process" where Rudy Giuliani can feed Biden dirt from Ukrainian sources directly to the DOJ, and the DOJ will then check it out pic.twitter.com/A6N8YV6tS9

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 9, 2020

Lindsey Graham: Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail pic.twitter.com/Xi9LQV6J9M

— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 9, 2020

Schiff delivers closing impeachment argument: ‘Is there one among you who will say ‘enough?”

House manager Rep. Adam Schiff delivered the final arguments in the quickly sabotaged Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. He appealed to whatever shred of dignity the Senate Republicans still imagined themselves to have, but mostly he delivered a warning: Trump will continue to break laws.

The Senate Republicans know it. The Republican senators who voted to block testimony in an attempt to bury evidence of Trump’s blatant act of corruption each know that. They will now own everything that happens next.

x

x

x

Fascism rises: Graham says Senate GOP will do whatever it can to expose the whistleblower

If you missed it, yesterday strident Donald Trump toady Sen. Lindsey Graham explained to Fox "Business" host Maria Bartiromo what he believes the Republican Senate will do next, after voting to immunize Trump from a clearly criminal extortion scheme meant to gain foreign help in winning his reelection. Graham said the Senate will move on from declaring that no administration witnesses must be called in an impeachment trial to calling a litany of Obama-era administration officials to interrogate them about Trump's targets in that scheme, Joe and Hunter Biden.

Graham also vowed to do something far more serious: Summon the "whistleblower" who first told Congress of Trump's criminal conspiracy. This is so that Graham and Trump's other Republican allies can interrogate Dear Leader’s nameless critic and, possibly, expose, threaten, and target that person to the full force of the Republican’s treason-approving, violence-threatening, mail-bombing base.

Campaign Action

Graham told his host, Angry Fascist Banana, that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr told him the committee will be calling the whistleblower to testify. Graham said that he intended to expose "how all this crap started" and launched into a stream of absolutely false, propaganda-based conspiracy theories about who the whistleblower was "working with" that we will not repeat here. He did not, however, indicate whether Burr still intended to keep the whistleblower's identity secret or whether he had been pressured into changing his mind on that.

Graham, obviously, believes that he will find some conspiracy that will require, or at least justify, doing Trump's personal bidding by exposing the only White House-linked official in the entire administration who put their duty to their country above their fealty to a raving, corrupt man damaging national security and our elections for his own personal gain.

There can be little argument that the Republican Party is now a fascist organization. It has put Dear Leader above the rule of law. It has given Dear Leader an "absolute immunity" to solicit as much foreign government assistance as he can muster or extort for the purposes of throwing the next election in his favor, while insisting that it will still be a “free election” regardless of how much false, conspiracy-premised propaganda Dear Leader can bring to bear. Now it insists that Dear Leader's law-protecting supposed enemies be exposed, and made examples of.

x

x