May 16, 2017… Day 117

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Holy. Moly. When is a bombshell THE bombshell? I’m so tired and confused.

When I was still in bed this morning, I saw Trump’s tweets about his absolute right to share information with Russia. That made me want to throw up. The President getting comfortable with being an autocrat.

Still windmilling, still don’t know which way things are going. Because they’re consolidating power even as they are imploding. And the Republicans just let them do it. What the hell is happening.

H.R. McMaster barks at reporters on camera. It is sad to see H.R. McMaster debase himself so utterly. Later in the day, Sean Spicer sounds wan and haggard off camera. No more bids for chuckles.

Then we find out that James Comey has memos about all his interactions with Trump, including the time Trump suggested the FBI just let the Flynn thing go, and the time that Trump suggested that the FBI lock up reporters.

“This is it,” said my friend at work, who was once a Republican. I said I hoped so but I was too jaded. Also, all this damage and severe Republican fuckery doesn’t get undone just by getting rid of Trump. Could just be part of our merry tumble into autocracy or theocracy?

It came out that it was Israel. And that the Russian reporter who “tricked” his way into the oval office reported it in Russia, and that now a spy’s life is in danger in Isis-held territory.

And then it felt like the wheels were starting to come off, at least according to congressional twitter.

So I don’t know. But I hear it’s nothing but shouting, screaming, and cursing all over the West Wing tonight.


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Reporter questions:

Questions they asked McMaster today in his 17 minute appearance

  • General McMaster, you came out to the stakeout area yesterday and you said the Washington Post story was false. Do you stick by that assertion? Do you think every element of the story was false? Do you have anything to add to what you said at the podium yesterday afternoon?
  • Can you tell us if President Trump will join Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Western Wall, and can you tell us if President Trump believes the Western Wall is part of Israel?
  • I just want to dig into some details of this reporting on the President’s conversations with the Russians. Are you denying that he revealed information that was given to the U.S. by an intelligence partner?
  • But can you confirm that it was intelligence from an intelligence partner?
  • Are you concerned that allies who do have this sort of intelligence-sharing relationship with the U.S. will stop sharing?
  • Have you reached out to foreign partners who might have contributed such information to the U.S. and tried to reassure them?
  • If there was nothing the President shared that he shouldn’t have shared, why would his counter-terrorism advisor reach out to the NSA and the CIA?
  • Presumably you would understand why there was a reason to reach out?
  • When was the decision made to share that information with the Russians? Did the President simultaneously on the spot decide to share that information? Or was there a formal process ahead of time?
  • When did the President make that decision though, sir?
  • So the President did make the decision in the moment, in the conversation?
  • I want to follow up first on Jennifer’s question, which you didn’t answer, about the Western Wall being part of Israel?
  • Did the President reveal a city? I mean, the spin is that the President revealed the name of a city and that gave away information that undermined an ally?
  • Was this information also the same content that was shared with our allies? And specific to this threat that the president said was relevant to airlines — was there an imminent threat? Was there something that needed to be shared IN THAT MOMENT with the Russians?
  • Did he share something to the Russians that he did not with our allies? Is that what you’re saying?
  • But there was no imminent threat?
  • When you came out after the story broke, you said the President did not reveal any sources or methods. Why were you denying things that hadn’t been alleged? The question is a simple yes or no question here. Did the President share classified information in that meeting?
  • General, you say though that national security has been put at risk by the leak of this. Do you have any idea how this got out and do you have a plan to limit further leaks?
  • Clearly you can’t have that confidence, by virtue of what happened yesterday. So do you have an idea of how this got out and how to tighten up the ship so this doesn’t happen again?
  • Isn’t there now an active investigation into how this information was leaked, and can you tell us who will be leading that?
  • Given that President Trump is now going to be meeting face to face with literally dozens of foreign leaders. If there is sensitivity to his discretion in what sort of information to decide to declassify, how are you advising him ahead of this foreign trip?

Questions reporters asked Sean Spicer today:

  • I just have a few. If you don’t mind, if I just tick through quickly since it’s an off-camera briefing. Number one, can you explain the transcripts? Will you share these transcripts that some lawmakers are calling for, or more information regarding the context and content of this meeting with those on Capitol Hill that are asking for this information?
  • But given that, they want a lot more. They want to see quotes. They want to see transcripts. What do you —
  • Two more questions for you, Sean, just on that. Number one, Israel as the ally here who provided information that the President then shared with the Russians. It’s our reporting and others that that is the case. Can you speak to that?
  • And my last one question for you just gets to the question of credibility that a lot of folks over on Capitol Hill have been asking over the last maybe 18 hours or so. The President himself tweeted just last week, Sean, that his surrogates can’t stand at this podium with perfect accuracy. Are you concerned when you have yourself, when you have General McMaster here, that people perhaps don’t trust or find the statements that are being made credible? 
  • So you’re not concerned about eroding credibility in this administration?
  •  Who was in the room is my last question — that Dina Powell, Secretary Tillerson —
  • Can you provide us a readout of who was in that room with him?
  • Sean, do you believe that this is a case of the intelligence community or elements in the intelligence community actively seeking to undermine the President and his foreign policy as he seeks to build a closer relationship with Russia?
  • But you did say undermining — it’s, frankly, dangerous.
  • What’s the President going to do about it?
  • If I could ask just one more question. Is it the President’s position that he can at any time declassify anything he chooses? He tweeted this morning he has the absolute right to talk to the Russians about whatever he wants to. Is that what he’s saying there, that he can declassify anything?
  • Just to clarify the last thing that General McMaster said, what you just said — so the President wasn’t aware — this wasn’t a part of his briefing, so to suggest he revealed it is impossible. Are you saying that the President didn’t say what is being —
  • So if it wasn’t part of his briefing, in a way, was there a failure —
  •  — the people underneath him, was there a failure that it didn’t rise to the level
  • I guess what I’m asking — he was fully prepared going into this meeting by the —
  • Thanks, Sean.  Just two for you. Can you say whether or not there’s an active investigation of these leaks, either formal or informal?
  • Wait, can I just get one more? Something that General McMaster declined to answer on two occasions from behind that podium that’s causing some unhappiness on the Hill, the refusal to say whether the Western Wall is in Israel or not. Can you explain why you guys can’t answer that question?
  • Can you talk briefly about the ripple of information and how it came out of the meeting that occurred last week in the Oval Office with the representatives of the Russian government? I’m trying to better understand where and how this information could have leaked.
  • In talking about it as a national security threat, you’ve spoken with the President obviously about this. What’s his thinking on the information that leaked? And if there were — and what does he think about the article that was released by The Washington Post?
  •  Thanks, Sean. There’s been reporting that suggests Israel is the country that provided that intelligence to the U.S. Whether it was Israel or not, has the administration had contact with that ally to potentially smooth over any complications that might have arisen from this being shared with the Russians?
  • Have you reached out to the country that provided that intelligence?
  • Sean, can we get a White House reaction or the President’s reaction to the report that said Rich was emailing WikiLeaks before his murder? [UGH, FOX NEWS]
  • It would certainly have a great influence on where the leaks came from, if they could potentially — I mean, there’s a lot of implications in this story, of course.  But —
  • Thank you, Sean. Two questions. First, the nature of the information that the President is alleged to have shared are the kinds of things that the Five Eyes allies share among each other. Is this a sign that that list could be expanded or that the President is considering expanding the Five Eyes, the allies we share intelligence with on a regular basis?
  • And the other thing is, what’s lost in all of this was that they — the President met with Dr. Kissinger. What advice did Dr. Kissinger give him on anything? Was there any readout of their conversation?
  • Thanks, Sean. You had these Comey headlines last week that you didn’t want.  You’ve got this story that landed in your lap today. I’m sure you heard Senator Corker say that this White House is in a “downward spiral.” How do you view the current state of things right now? Is a “downward spiral” fair, unfair? Is “chaotic” fair, unfair? And does this White House need a reset?
  • Is there any soul-searching that’s being done? Any reflection that — or any blame even being placed for sort of the current state of chaos, if you will, inside the West Wing or in your colleagues, the President himself?
  • Sean, could you tell us how the President gets his intelligence briefings?  Because we understand that each President has them differently, they ask for them differently. How does this President receive his intelligence briefings?
  • Okay. But does he read any part of it, or is he given the information verbally?
  • All right, to follow up on that, a couple questions. The question — well, the statement from McMaster begs the question as to — the statement about not having parts of the intelligence that the President talked about to Russia begs a couple questions. Why was that not included? And some are asking, in the intelligence community, does this go to the fact that the President may not be trusted with this information? And also, it goes into, again, how does he get his information and why it was it —
  • I’m sorry, I was coughing.
  • But has there ever been a concern that this President was not able to handle the intelligence information and they’ve  kind of crafted it to a piece where he would not get in trouble if it were to slip out?
  • Okay, wait, I’m not finished.
  • Well, a couple people had more, and I want to ask something about Secret Service, okay? I understand that David Garrett is being eyed as the head of the Uniformed Division of Secret Service. And Dave Garrett, during the Clinton administration, was reprimanded for saying the “N” word to a female pass-holder here at the White House. What do you say to that?
  • But it is under the administration’s purview.
  • A trip question. There’s been a lot of reporting —
  • There’s been a lot of reporting in Israel that the President was going to go to Masada. That’s something that General McMaster didn’t mention. Has that been scrubbed? If he is going, what’s the message you’re trying to send?
  • Sean, it may seem like a small matter, but the President mispronounced President Erdogan’s name a couple of times at the event today. We had a report yesterday from Politico about the President reading and embracing a report that was pushed in front of him from a fake 1970s Time Magazine story. We’ve had numerous things about the way that the President consumes information, including and not exclusive to the events of the last few days. Two questions. Is the President doing his homework? And are you satisfied, or can you tell the American people that the President is getting the best quality information possible to make decisions?
  • Senator Cornyn pulled out of the FBI search. Does the President still think it’s possible to name a new director before he goes on the trip? Or is that likely to drag?
  • Where does it stand at this point, the search?
  • So it probably will drag until after the trip?
  • Can you explain — you’re saying that the leaks, that there’s a problem obviously that there’s leaks. Other people say that the President said something inappropriate. Regardless of what happened, how can you assure allies that have expressed concern about leaks in the United States that their information is safe with the United States? How can you assure them? Are people calling them? And I don’t mean the particular ally; I just mean in general. 
  • Are calls being made?
  • Three quick questions for you.  One, President Reagan said — and they will be quick, I promise — said of the former Soviet Union that they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, lie, or cheat to attain global revolution.  That was their long-term goal.
  • President Reagan has said that the Soviet Union reserves unto itself the right to commit any crime, lie, or cheat to obtain its long-term goals. So what do you think? What does this President think the long-term goals of Russia are?  That’s the first question.
  • The second is: Do you think a public official has a right at any time to lie to the American public under any circumstance?
  • And third, I guess going back to our question earlier, but to be more pointed, what do you say to the critics who say this administration in one word, in the last few weeks, has been inept?
  • What do you think their long-term goals are?
  • And the second one was, do you think under any circumstance it’s all right for a public official to lie to the American public?
  • Public officials.
  • And a third one, as far as the last week, the actions from this administration being inept?
  • But that’s not unique.
  • A number of Republican lawmakers this morning said they were troubled by what they read in The Washington Post, the story that came out late yesterday afternoon. Senator Lindsey Graham, in an interview that he did today, said, “The only thing I can say when it comes to Russia is they are an unreliable partner.” Does the administration share that point of view that Russia is an unreliable partner?
  • But to Lindsey Graham’s point that he was making in that comment that I just read to you, does the President share his belief that Russia is an unreliable partner?
  • Sean, why did the President’s Counterterrorism Advisor feel the need to reach out to the CIA and the NSA after the meeting with the Foreign Minister?
  • Is the White House doing anything to reach out to members of Congress to explain what happened in the meeting with the Russian officials? And Senator Burr, on the Intelligence Committee, said just before you came out that he’s still waiting to hear from someone at the White House.
  • Are there any plans for the President to reach out himself to any members to explain or reassure?
  • Thanks, Sean. So you’ve referenced a few times these statements from McMaster, Tillerson, and Powell. And one thing none of them address is sort of the key point of the article, which is that the President divulged classified information. None of their statements addressed that. So can you clarify for us whether or not the President divulged classified information? Number one.  And number two, if so, who gave the okay on that? Was that preapproved by State or by any of these agencies?
  • So you won’t clarify whether or not the information he shared was classified?
  • So, two questions. First, in this meeting with the Russians at the White House, why was the President’s first inclination to want to share sensitive information rather than, for instance, to press them on meddling in the U.S. election, which we saw all these intelligence officials agree just last week was something that Russia certainly did?
  • And secondly, one of the knocks against this administration has basically been that you guys do things in a sloppy manner and that makes stories like this worse. So when you look at the way this played out — yes, we routinely share information, but we routinely share information that is sensitive with our allies. We don’t routinely share sensitive information with the Russians. So I guess, did you guys take the proper procedures to let intelligence agencies know ahead of time that you wanted to share this information — that the President did — with Russian officials? Or did he just make the call on the spot, and was that the reason that Bossert made these calls afterward to the CIA and to the NSA? And was this a learning experience in any way for this administration about following protocols to ensure you guys don’t get the kind of headlines next time that you did this time?
  • But there’s no indication that you guys went through the proper protocols.
  • But it can be —
  • Right?
  • Sean, if I could follow up on Jon Decker’s question, a couple of questions about the fight against ISIL in this context. That was what the President talked about was the source of the conversation, or, I should say, framework of the conversation that he had with the Russians last week. So is the President actively looking for new partners in the fight against ISIL? And is it his intent to look to partners that have previously been unconsidered because they were not part of traditional alliances and partnerships with the United States?

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