Blow, Kristof, and Collins

In “The Flynn Affair” Mr. Blow has a question:  Why has President Trump remained so loyal to Michael Flynn?  Mr. Kristof is flexing his satire muscles in “The Republican Hypocrisy Hall of Fame” when he says thank God for our truth-seeking patriots in the G.O.P.!  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Can’t Add Things Up,” says the president is a man with a budget plan that nobody understands.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the greatest political mysteries of our time is why President Trump has clung — and continues to cling — so steadfastly to the perfidious Michael Flynn.

Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, is at the nexus of Trump’s problems. There was Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey and his contacts with Russia. There was Trump’s dismissal of all warnings to steer clear of Flynn; his refusal to fire Flynn as soon as he was alerted to the fact that Flynn posed a security risk; his efforts to impede or even terminate the investigations of Flynn.

Not only has Trump staunchly defended Flynn — even after firing him — he is apparently still in contact with him, sending him encouraging messages. As Michael Isikoff reported last week for Yahoo News about a dinner Flynn convened with “a small group of loyalists”:

Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.

This level of extreme fealty is puzzling. It extends beyond basic loyalty to an early supporter. It seems to me that there is something else at play here, something as yet unknown. Trump’s attachment to Flynn strikes me less as an act of fidelity and more as an exercise in fear. What does Flynn know that Trump doesn’t want the world to know?

What are the dirty details of what could only be called The Flynn Affair?

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who served as head of the Trump transition team before being brushed aside for Vice President Mike Pence, said he warned Trump about Flynn. As Christie said earlier this week: “I didn’t think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration, and I made that very clear to candidate Trump, and I made it very clear to President-elect Trump.”

Christie continued: “If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn’t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job.”

Trump apparently ignored the warning.

Barack Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn. As The New York Times reported earlier this month:

Mr. Obama, who had fired Mr. Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Mr. Trump that he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide, said the administration officials, who were briefed on the Oval Office conversation. Mr. Trump later ignored the advice, naming Mr. Flynn to be his national security adviser.

Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, warned Trump about Flynn. As The Times reported earlier this month, when she delivered mesmerizing testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Yates informed the White House, less than a week into the Trump administration, that Flynn had lied to Pence about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

As Yates put it, “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Trump again ignored the warning.

Eighteen days passed. Then, on Monday, Feb. 13, The Washington Post reported that Yates had warned Trump about Flynn, a warning the White House had kept secret.

That night, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump requested Flynn’s resignation, with Spicer saying the following day:

“The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation in a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn’s resignation.”

Spicer quickly pointed out that the firing was not caused by a “legal issue, but rather a trust issue.”

As White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said on television that Tuesday morning, “It was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable.”

In fact, it appeared that it was Trump being embarrassed by press reports that he had been warned of Flynn’s treachery and had done nothing with the information that led to Flynn’s ultimate resignation.

In Trump’s mind, this was all the fault of the press, not Flynn’s double-dealing or the president’s own faulty vetting and subsequent inaction. In a news conference the day after Spicer described Flynn’s departure, Trump said of Flynn, “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media, in many cases.” Trump continued, “I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly.”

The day after Flynn was forced out his job, Trump told the former F.B.I. director, James Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” according to contemporaneous notes written by Comey, referring to a meeting in which Trump asked Comey to lay off the federal investigation of Flynn.

Comey wouldn’t let it go, and Trump would later fire him and reportedly brag about it to Russians in the Oval Office a day later: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” Trump continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Now, all the hoops Trump has jumped through to hire, keep and protect Flynn may lead to Trump’s undoing. The question of whether Trump’s actions amount to obstruction of justice is very real. The White House Counsel’s Office is researching impeachment. This week Trump retained Marc Kasowitz as outside counsel for his impending legal problems. This is going to get ugly.

So the question not only remains, but is amplified in this light: What about Flynn is worth all this? Why continue to stick by someone who seems to have so clearly been in the wrong and is causing you such woes?

Does Flynn have knowledge of something so damaging that it keeps Trump crouched in his defense? This is the question that ongoing investigations must answer, particularly the investigation now led by the Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller.

It’s time to lay bare this fishy bromance and come to know the full breadth of Flynn’s furtive activities and whether Trump was aware or complicit, before, during or after. Kick back America; it’s Mueller time.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

We certainly don’t want leading Republicans to tumble into hypocrisy, so let’s refresh their memories.

Patriots like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have eloquently warned of the importance of ferreting out the truth and holding politicians accountable, including for leaking classified information. Thank God for their insistence on truth-seeking!

As McConnell warned, for example: “The president did not value the sacred oath. He was interested in saving his hide, not truth and justice. I submit to my colleagues that if we have no truth and we have no justice, then we have no nation of laws. No public official, no president, no man or no woman is important enough to sacrifice the founding principles of our legal system.”

Such passion for justice and accountability (expressed in 1999, during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton) inspires us all. And at this historic moment when timid or myopic politicians balk at congressional oversight and resist an independent commission to investigate President Trump and possible collusion with the Kremlin, it behooves us to cherish the wisdom of such honest souls.

They’re busy, but no problem! I’ve helpfully dug out their brilliant insights:

“Extreme carelessness with classified material … is still totally disqualifying.”

— Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

“It’s simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ w/ classified info should be denied further access to it.”

— House Speaker Paul Ryan, tweet, July 7, 2016

“The security clearance of any officer or employee of the federal government who has exercised extreme carelessness in the handling of classified information shall be revoked.” — Senate Bill 3135, co-sponsored last year (to shame Hillary Clinton) by 16 Republican senators: Cory Gardner, John Cornyn, Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, James Risch, Pat Roberts, Dean Heller, Kelly Ayotte, John Barrasso, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson, Thom Tillis, John Thune, David Vitter, Mike Rounds and James Inhofe

“Those who mishandled classified info have had their sec clearances revoked, lost their jobs, faced fines, & even been sent to prison.”

— Reince Priebus, tweet, July 6, 2016

“What do I say to the tens of thousands of people that live and work in my district who work for the federal government, including more than 47,000 Marines? What do I say [to them] when saying something that isn’t true and handling classified information in an extremely careless way has no criminal ramifications?”

Representative Darrell Issa, July 12, 2016

“In my opinion, quite frankly, it’s treason.”

Representative Michael McCaul, Nov. 3, 2016, on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server

“Presidents are not ordinary citizens. They are extraordinary, in that they are vested with so much more authority and power than the rest of us. We have a right; indeed, we have an obligation, to hold them strictly accountable to the rule of law. … It is self-evident to us all, I hope, that we cannot overlook, dismiss or diminish the obstruction of justice by the very person we charge with taking care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

— Senator John McCain, Feb. 12, 1999, in voting to convict President Clinton in his impeachment trial

“By his words and deeds, he had done great harm to the notions of honesty and integrity that form the underpinnings of this great republic. … If we do not sustain the moral and legal foundation on which our system of government and our prosperity is based, both will surely and steadily diminish.”

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Feb. 12, 1999, as a senator

“The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the president’s moral authority. … There was no better reason than that for the resignation of this president.”

— Senator Charles Grassley, Feb. 12, 1999

“Our freedom is assured by the rule of law. … Even the most powerful among us must be subject to those laws. Tampering with the truth-seeking functions of the law undermines our justice system and the foundations on which our freedoms lie.”

Senator Mike Crapo, Feb. 12, 1999

Such Ciceros! At a time when so many Americans have a narrow, partisan vision, I am grateful that we are blessed with patriots of such vision.

In all seriousness, let’s adhere to the spirit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who as a senator during the 1999 Clinton trial declared:

“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law. … Under our Constitution, such acts are high crimes, and equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. … It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth.”

And they’ll do anything about Trump when pigs fly.  Last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

We’re now getting a feel for what it was like to work in a business run by Donald Trump.

His budget is out, and it predicts we will have super-duper, excellent, great — no, huge — economic growth based on monster tax cuts for the rich and cuts in spending that will leave the poor with no money to buy anything.

It was produced in concert with that great health care bill, which the Congressional Budget Office now estimates would cost 23 million Americans their insurance coverage over the next 10 years.

On the plus side, in 10 years Trump will definitely not be president. Unless there’s a coup.

We’re being run like a bad Atlantic City casino. It’s only a matter of time before the government will be trying to make ends meet by selling its name to golf course developers and marketing USA Steaks.

The budget came out while Trump was overseas, talking about peace with Pope Francis, who occasionally looked as cheerful as if he was watching his car being towed away.

Meanwhile at home, the detailed presidential spending plan was being unveiled, like the magic show at a mismanaged gambling house tottering toward bankruptcy court. There were a few, um, flaws. For one thing, the budget appeared to count the same $2 trillion twice. We hate when a government does that.

It also presumes that a country with an aging population is going to spur economic growth by battling immigration. And the big tax-cutting plan that is the basis of said explosive growth is still just that one-page summary the administration handed out to catcalls last month.

And it has two names. “Well, it’s called the New Foundation for American Greatness, but I wanted to call it the Taxpayer First Budget,” said budget director Mick Mulvaney at the rollout.

Which do you prefer, people? I am imagining a salesman urging his customer to buy extra supplies “so you’ll be ready for the New Foundation for American Greatness.” Maybe we could just call it by the nickname it has already acquired in the outside world, Thing that Won’t Add Up (TWAUP). I sort of like TWAUP. It sounds like a dyspeptic frog.

Congress could not have been less enthusiastic about the president’s plan if the members had been with the pope at that picture-taking session. Perhaps they were remembering that one of Trump’s casinos went on to a career that involved ultimately being sold for 4 cents on the dollar.

“Probably dead on arrival,” said Senator John McCain when the budget emerged.

You have to believe that McCain is having a good time these days. He made his name as the tough-talking, truth-telling presidential candidate before he actually won a nomination and became the cranky guy who looked as if he was yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Then he was the bored loyal Republican during the Obama administration. And now, it’s back to anything goes.

The spending cuts were so ridiculous that nobody was taking them very seriously. (Good luck with squashing the National Institutes of Health.) But in this administration, just because something is stupid and universally derided doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention. These days, that’s life as we know it, and Trump’s plan could serve as a potential justification for whatever less-nutty cuts the Republican majority is going to try to make. So let’s treat them seriously for a minute.

Mulvaney claimed the new budget was all about “compassion.” It’s not everybody whose heart bleeds so much for wealthy taxpayers that he’s prepared to feed them the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But Mulvaney used to be a leader in a House caucus so conservative that even the rest of the Republican majority thought they were sort of bananas. Now he’s definitely in the running for most awful cabinet member, even in a competition that includes Jeff Sessions.

The goal of dismantling the social safety net, Mulvaney said, was to make recipients of federal aid “take charge of their own lives.” You could certainly do some of this by identifying, say, disabled Social Security recipients who might be capable of working and giving them the right training. But that presumes your goal is actually to make the programs better. “There are a number of things that could be done. But they’re very labor-intensive,” said Cristina Martin Firvida of the AARP.

And the effort would probably have to be led by an administration that has made more than 54 nominations for the 500-plus top positions requiring Senate confirmation.

The Trump budget — just one more carp, please — is apparently going to try to limit food stamp benefits to poor families with a lot of young children. Yes! The Department of Agriculture says it’s going to cap food stamps at six people per household. If another kid comes along, they’re out of luck.

The budget also eliminates all government payments to Planned Parenthood.

Roll the dice. ☐

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