Clint Watts Sums Up What Trump’s Collusion With Russia Really Means

 

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Pictured: Me engaging in Godwin’s Law times, like, a million.

 

One of the most irritating parts about living in this madhouse political time is that the very worst people are suddenly influential. I literally couldn’t believe that, as of late, we were having a Sebastian Gorka moment, with his “ideas” being discussed on serious television programs, not to mention that he had actual influence in the White House. If you paid attention at all to CT, he was always this fringe idiot who was inexplicably taken seriously by a few people, but thankfully very few. He was more a persistent irritant. That he suddenly was everywhere was as boggled and distorted as the fact that some reality show idiot was being saluted by Marines.

But, on the other hand, people who you respect, who should have always been listened to more than bigoted fascists like Gorka, suddenly have their own moments, to help us explain how the reality TV dummy is President. For the last few months, that’s been Clint Watts. His testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday clarified what we should be talking about when looking for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian provocateurs.

Clint’s appeared on this blog a handful of times (which I’m sure is a thrill), first about foreign fighters, and then more Trump-y stuff, and over at the old joint we had a neat little roundelay about drones. So when the Senate called for his expertise, I knew we were in for something good. What I didn’t expect was him to draw the parallels between Trump and Russia so clearly.

“I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room. The reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”

That’s the money quote right there. What we see, clearly, is that there doesn’t even need to be active collusion to say that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians in order to influence the elections. They purposely amplified Russian propaganda, giving it even greater attention, which, as he pointed out, is the whole goddamn point of propaganda.

And, furthermore, he was saying that because the Russians wanted to demonstrate that they could influence the election, because you don’t want to be subtle in doing so, the Trump amplification was, in addition to helping his horrorshow campaign, aiding and abetting Russia’s position as a power capable of doing such things.

And that’s part of Russian’s entire 21st-century purpose. They are a weakened superpower practicing asymmetrical warfare in the zone of influence. They want to intimidate and bully their Eurasian neighbors, as they jostle with China and form tenuous, loose-handshake alliances with Turkey, and Iran (and to an extent India) for continental dominance. They are playing the Eurasian game on multiple overlapping fronts, and being able to show their power is more important to them than using it, given their diminished resources.

And Trump, through his vanity and lack of self control, helped them do so.

I don’t know if any of this is actually actionable. The way I drew it here, I don’t think it is impeachable, though maybe there is an obscure law about helping Russia become more powerful.

But this is also just the beginning. That Michael Flynn is asking for immunity is…odd, since no one has accused him of any crimes (sure, the Logan Act, but I haven’t heard anyone seriously say he might be prosecuted for that). He’s either acting under a superabundance of caution or knows he’s got some problems coming his way. Either way, as soon as the investigation moved away from Nunes’s doltish coverups to an actual Senate hearing, dude got spooked. He knows it is serious now.

And that’s the point. It clearly goes much further. That literally everyone in the administration is compromised, in some form or the other, by Russia, and that they are being the opposite of forthcoming is too much smoke. As Charlie Pierce said, to assume that it stops with mere amplification is “to believe to the point of fanaticism the power of coincidence.”

If you live long enough, you see Donald Trump become President. But maybe if you live just a bit longer, you’ll see him become a disgraced ex-President.

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Incompetence or Malevolence Are Your Only Options

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Flynn tenders his resignation.

I tend to be super-wary of pundits who say things like “the American people will do X” or “at some point, the American people will realize”, partly because phrases like that are cheap dodges, a way to hide your opinion behind an imaginary consensus, but mostly because it is impossible to guess what 330 million people are thinking. I don’t think there is an American opinion, and if I did, it was largely shattered in November.

That said, when a candidate who runs on his business acumen and ability to manage things and hire the best people loses top advisor after top advisor for being too close to Russia and lying about how close they are, it is possible the American people might realize he is an incredible clod and blow-dried fake.

There are really only two options when considering the resignation of Michael Flynn, who only spent a hair over three weeks as Trump’s Jack D. Ripper and was brought low by (possibly) lying about his communications with the Russian ambassador. One is to accept the narrative, which is that Flynn, a top advisor throughout the general election and one of Trump’s first hires, was working behind everyone’s back, and was criminally unreliable and rogue from the get-go. If that is the case, it speaks to an astonishing lack of vetting by Team Trump, a laziness that is part of his character, and a constitutional inability to judge people by any measure other than obsequious loyalty.

(And, if this is the case, if Flynn really went behind Trump’s back, it wasn’t even real loyalty: just flattery, which means Trump can’t spot a jackal if it coos sweet nothings to him.)

The other option is that Trump assembled a team that was deliberately close to Russia, for reasons of white supranationalismor cruel geopolitics, or money, or whatever reason you prefer. They cozied up to Putin, and to global Putinism, because that is their kleptocratic vision of the world. The only problem came when it became too obvious, and the people who weren’t involved (Pence, maybe Priebus) tried to distance themselves when things started leaking.

This theory is backed by evidence, namely that Trump has been praising Putin since Day 1, even going so far as to compliment him for defying the US (at the exact same time Flynn was making the phone calls that would bring him down).

I tend to think that the reality is more the latter, though the team is staggeringly incompetent as well. After all, Flynn wasn’t the first guy close to Trump who had to leave becaue of Russian connections. It is also the case that for weeks, the intelligence agencies have been withholding key information from the administration, considering it a Russian pipeline.
What’s going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM,” meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in wry frustration.
Now, of course, that could be part of the open war between the civilians and the intelligence services, but this is still essentially unprecedented. Remember that the war started because the IC was looking into Trump’s Russian connections. This is the heart of his administration.
And that’s why I don’t really buy the idea that they are going to bring in a grown-up and he’ll become a normal President. Administrations flow from the head down, and Trump can’t pick anyone more popular than he is. He couldn’t abide Petraeus, and even if he hires him, will undermine him from the get-go.
Even more, I don’t think this will stop the bleeding. Trump may want to “move forward”, as I heard on NPR this morning, but there will be investigations, and in an administration ruled by chaos that is already leaking like a reef-torn wooden junk, more news will come out as everyone scrambles to save their ass. I don’t want to predict any outcomes, but I think chaos and disaster are still going to rule Team Trump. It’s up to you to decide if that is because they are bad actors or just really bad at their jobs.