The Rule of Law Attacked
The big story of the week was the Republican attack on the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISA”) in an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. The attack was nominally about the attempt to make public Chairman Devin Nunes’s memo from the House Intelligence Committee purporting to show that the FISA surveillance of suspected Russian asset and former Trump campaign official Carter Page was politically motivated. The memo failed spectacularly to do this. More important, however, was that:
● The effort to “#releasethememo” was a sophisticated information warfare campaign conducted by far-right and Russian computational propaganda. The campaign succeeded in driving the issue to prominence with far-right media, GOP lawmakers and the general public. As such it was a further warning that social media remains dangerously susceptible to such efforts to shape public opinion. At this point, there is no effective defense.
● The Republican Party and Trump used this campaign to attack the FBI, the Department of Justice and FISA, aiming to discredit their work and sow doubt about their impartiality. Doing this caused grievous harm to the trust needed for these agencies to properly do their work: trust damaged with the public, as well as between Congress/the White House and the dedicated public servants who work to keep up from harm. Going forward, intelligence services may rightly doubt that Republican Members of Congress can be entrusted with classified information or may worry that the information they share will be distorted and used against them. This damages the foundations of our republic.
● The smokescreen showed, once again, that Trump and the Republicans – nearly all of whom are now his dedicated enablers – are terrified of Mueller and seeking to escape judgement at all costs, even if it means destroying our country. There was and is speculation that Trump will seek to use the memo as a pretext for firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, in yet another effort to obstruct justice. If so, we must take to the streets en masse. Even if he doesn’t fire Rosenstein, Trump continues to spread disinformation, working constantly to mislead his supporters, who now include nearly all Republican members of Congress.
● Although it was drowned out by the memo furor, Trump refused this week to carry out the sanctions against Russia that had been imposed with near-unanimity by Congress last summer. Has there ever been an instance in which he defended the United States against Russia, instead of the other way around? No need to wonder whose side he’s on.
● Finally, on a lighter note, Nunes’s efforts helped his Democratic challenger, Andrew Janz, raise over $165,000 this week. Thanks, Devin.
In Other News…
● Trump gave his State of the Union speech, which was notable largely for its unusual length and its hostility towards immigrants. However, following Trump’s speeches as if they were like the speeches of a normal politician misses the point. He’s a congenital liar and bent on running the government like his fiefdom. It’s that context that matters.
● The administration announced the outline of its Infrastructure Plan. As is normal for this most incompetent White House, there were no details. Overall, though, the plan seeks to put almost all of the burden on states for funding and to fund the remainder through privatization – in other words, another give-away to companies at the expense of the public. What a surprise.
● Paul Ryan touted the story of a constituent who was happy with a $1.50 raise in her paycheck as a sign that the tax scam passed in December was working. He quickly deleted his post when people didn’t quite fawn over it. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the tax break amounted to under 4¢ an hour. Or maybe that the ultra-rich, whom the scam was designed to serve, get a break in the $3,000/wk range.
Lastly, polling this week showed Republicans bouncing back in polls that track the “generic ballot” (“Would you vote for a generic Republican or generic Democrat?”), dropping from a 13-point advantage to under 6. Trump’s approval numbers, while still incredibly low, also came up a bit. No one knows at this point what this portends, but we might take a clear message from it: we must fight complacency and work like crazy this year if we are to win in November. And, looking at the enormous damage Trump and the Republicans are doing to our country, win we must. So let’s take FBI Director Christopher Wray’s exhortation to the women and men of the Bureau to heart: “Keep calm and tackle hard!”.
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org.
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook.
Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news.
To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, here’s a summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.