Schiff drafting plans for 9/11-styled commission to investigate failed pandemic preparations

In an interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff says that his staff is now working on a "discussion draft" for creating an independent commission to investigate the failures of the United States in preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission would be modeled after the 9/11 Commission, created to investigate the events leading up to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Schiff told Ignatius that that would be delayed "until the crisis has abated to ensure it does not interfere with" agencies' ongoing response efforts.

The most obvious concern, of course, is whether Trump and surrounding loyalists ignored warnings about the rapidly spreading virus due to Trump's obsession over his own self-interests. Ignatius reports that intelligence officials are already concerned that new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a partisan Trump loyalist, is "trying to shape intelligence that might challenge or embarrass Trump."

If this is the case, and there is absolutely no reason to believe Grenell would not act in such a fashion, an investigation of administration actions cannot be delayed for long. The Trump administration has already been caught once engaging in criminal conduct intended solely to benefit Trump's own reelection, resulting in impeachment; there is no question that Trump's team, having been immunized from consequences for those acts by a similarly corrupt Republican-held Senate, may engage in more.

Fascism: Personnel director quits in ongoing Trump purge of non-loyalists from government

Every single paragraph of this Politico report on the resignation of Office of Personnel Management (OPM) director Dale Cabaniss somehow manages to be its own special brand of terrifying.

The short version is that ex-Trump "body man" John McEntee, who Trump appointed to head the Presidential Personnel Office despite zero qualifications other than the requisite suck-up-ness, seems to have so infuriated Cabaniss that he bailed out with zero notice on Tuesday. The longer version is that McEntee and allies seem to be a rolling catastrophe, combining demands for absolute loyalty with what appears to be a fairly solid attempt to reactivate the Hitler Youth.

There are, bizarrely, now three college undergraduates moved by McEntee and crew into positions of new appointee vetting, with no good (or any) explanations from McEntee as to just why some of the most sensitive hiring decisions in government are going through Trump-loyal college seniors taking a break from doing their coursework. John Troup Hemenway, James Bacon, and Anthony Labruna are all college seniors with no apparent qualifications for their positions other than, again, Trump loyalty.

But there's also the arrival of a new "White House liaison" to the OPM, Paul Dans, who appears to be assisting McEntee in his fascist-premised purge of disloyal-to-Trump government officials but, again, has seemingly little relevant experience for his new position or duties. Reading between the lines, it appears Dans' performance so far is not impressing the people in government with actual work to do.

All of this, in other words, is becoming a complete sh-tshow in the post-impeachment days of Trump attempting to remove anyone and everyone in government who is not loyal to him while, simultaneously, a pandemic sweeps through American cities on a six-week head start due to the astonishing incompetence of Dear Leader and his boot-licking loyalists.

It doesn't seem possible to imagine how the Trump team's response to the current crisis could get worse than it currently is, but Trump's ex-soda-bringer is assembling a team to make sure it absolutely does get worse, and that anyone with subject-matter expertise who might have slipped through initial appointment cracks is quickly replaced with new, invariably compliant toadies who know better than to contradict Trump's various imaginary pronouncements about how Actually he is doing the best job of anyone who ever lived, so shut up.

Again, with no pushback from Republican lawmakers or anyone else in the party. With no worry, on the part of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate, that Trump's purge of non-loyalists will further wreck an already incompetent government response to a pandemic that could kill untold numbers of Americans. Not a peep.

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.

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.

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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.

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

Mike Pompeo lied about NPR interview with Mary Louise Kelly—and there’s proof

It's hard to keep track of every detail of Republican corruption, but Trump-appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got himself into a new scandal when he cut an NPR interview short after journalist Mary Louise Kelly asked him about ousted ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, screamed at Kelly afterward, and dared her to find Ukraine on a "blank" map he keeps in his office, for some reason (which she did, as Kelly has a master's degree in European studies). He capped off this tour de force by sending out a crass official State Department statement claiming she was lying about all of it.

Among his claims: Kelly had agreed to limit questions only to Iran and was not supposed to ask about anything Ukraine-related. It turns out, because we've heard this song before, that Mike Pompeo was lying through his teeth on that one and The Washington Post was quickly given proof. Once again, Pompeo has used his State Department to lie to the American people.

The Washington Post obtained the email exchanges between NPR and Mike Pompeo's staff. They show that Kelly specifically did not agree to Pompeo's conditions, and specifically said she would also be asking questions about "Ukraine." "I never agree to take anything off the table," Kelly wrote in one email.

Pompeo's office pushed back, asking at least that Iran be the topic for "a healthy portion of the interview," once again signaling Pompeo's months-long aversion to answering any questions whatsoever about the impeachment-causing scandal he is buried in up to his ex-House Republican eyebrows. But Kelly gave only the assurance that her "plan" was to spend a "healthy portion" on Iran, with no promise that other subjects wouldn't come up.

So the secretary of state lied to the American people in an official State Department statement, which is many times worse than the Benghazi scandal House Republican Pompeo attempted to manufacture out of thin air. This is not surprising: He is crooked. He has repeatedly lied. He has been identified as a key figure in Trump's scheme to withhold military aid to Ukraine until a "Biden" investigation was announced.

Former national security adviser John Bolton's unreleased book manuscript alleges that Pompeo personally knew of the smear effort against Ambassador Yovanovitch, and knew that Rudolph Giuliani's claims about her were false, The book says Pompeo expressed a supposition that Giuliani was working to undermine Yovanovitch on behalf of other, unspecified clients. Pompeo is corrupt. He must be removed from office.

Trump defender Matt Gaetz publicly sulking after he didn’t get picked for Dear Leader’s B-team

One of the problems with being a professional political suck-up is that there is always someone willing to be more of a suck-up than you. Grovel all you like: Lindsey Graham will have you beat. Praise Dear Leader day and night: Nikki Haley will write a whole book about Dear Leader's hidden genius, even as Dear Leader kicks mud on her shoes. Rep. Matt Gaetz is not exactly in the upper tiers of the Republican brain trust, but he has devoted himself to sucking-up like a Hoover.

So right now he's really, really steamed that he wasn't picked to be on Donald Trump's impeachment "defense" team. Not the elite team, the one sitting on the Senate floor doing its best impression of mob lawyers who have made the big time, but the B-team, with Rep. Jim Jordan and other House shouters who have been selected as Trump's semi-official Fox News defenders. According to Gaetz, the White House did it to punish him.

Specifically, Gaetz is publicly blaming White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland for the betrayal, and is slamming him for it. Gaetz says Ueland is retaliating after Gaetz voted with Democrats to rein in Trump's war powers following Trump's assassination of a top Iranian military official. And he is steamed. Politico reports that Gaetz said, "He knows it’s House Democrats, not Iran, who are impeaching the president, right?" and added, “I thought ‘legislative affairs’ folks were supposed to help the president add friends, not extend silly fights with the president’s best friends."

BEST. FRIENDS. He is Dear Leader's BEST FRIEND, you White House lowlife. How dare you get between a man and his dog?

To emphasize: This is a very stupid fight. This is why Rep. Matt Gaetz is the best person to pursue it. Gaetz and the White House both know that Gaetz will still appear in front of any available camera to praise and defend Trump, regardless of whether he is allowed into the Dear Leader Fan Clubhouse or not. It is true that he wanted to be an executive talking point delivery boy, but he is still a regular talking point delivery boy. It's just a meaningless title that just helps insecure people feel better about themselves.