Today’s read: 8 minutes.
A mysterious spy story hits D.C. Plus, how Trump is still president and a pretty awesome campaign launch.
As I was about to send this email, President Trump fired National Security Advisor John Bolton via Twitter, saying he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.” Bolton joins a laundry list of top Trump appointees who have been forced out. This one is quite surprising. And, judging by these tweets, Bolton does not plan to go quietly into the night.
Happy lunch break.
Yesterday, I spent the day in Bryant Park here in NYC shooting a video about the student debt crisis. I asked a bunch of people the “one thing they wish they knew” before taking out a student loan. The number one answer? Interest rates.
What D.C. is talking about.
Spies. Yesterday, CNN reported that a top U.S. spy was removed from Russia in 2017 because intel officials were worried about his exposure and Trump’s handling of confidential information. Hours later, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC all published similar stories, but they pushed back on the notion that the asset was removed because of Trump’s handling of classified intel. Instead, those outlets reported that as the 2016 election unfolded, and details of Russia’s interference in the election became more widely known, intel officials worried that the spy would be “made” by exposure from the news media. After initially refusing to leave, the CIA spy was extracted in 2017 after a fake vacation. His whereabouts today haven’t been confirmed, but he spent the better part of a decade sending highly confidential briefs to the U.S., rose far enough in the Kremlin that he reportedly had meetings with Vladimir Putin, and was instrumental in disclosing Russia’s role meddling in the 2016 election.
What Democrats are saying.
Immediately, Democrats seized on the CNN story as proof that Trump was putting people in danger. Rachel Maddow took to MSNBC to say she was shocked the U.S. lost a priceless spy because of Trump. Others questioned how our foreign allies could trust us if the intel community couldn’t even trust Trump. Some began threading the spy’s extraction into the Russia collusion narrative, trying to line up the timeline and noting that shortly after the spy was removed Trump had a meeting with Putin where the interpreter’s notes were kept secret.
Jim Sciutto @jimsciuttoNew tonight: Given NYT has now made details on Russian spy public, I can now report additional info we had withheld. Asset had direct access to Vladimir Putin, including the remarkable ability to take photos of presidential documents, and had served US for more than a decade. 1/ https://t.co/gyk8hA79k1
What Republicans are saying.
More fake news. CNN’s story has been obliterated once again, and once again they won’t correct it. Not a single other news outlet besides CNN is reporting that Trump’s mishandling of classified information was the reason for the spy’s extraction. Instead, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC are reporting that media inquiries to the CIA about the identity of the spy are what forced him out of Russia. It was dogged journalists, not Trump, nearly blew the spy’s identity up and put sources in danger. All this, once again, shows that CNN is desperate to paint Trump as negatively as possible. And it’s worth asking: why is it that every time they make these mistakes, the error makes Trump look worse — not better?
Chuck Ross @ChuckRossDCWell, CNN and @jimsciutto have screwed up once again. CIA did not exfiltrate a Kremlin spy out of concerns over Trump's handling of classified intel, as they reported. https://t.co/xg0f0cs9GJ
This is not a good look for CNN. The discrepancies between their story and the others, and the fact that they framed the story how they did, simply doesn’t comport with what The New York Times and The Washington Post are reporting. It’s certainly possible Trump’s handling of classified info was unsettling for lots of folks in the intel community, but it doesn’t appear to have impacted this story. On the “pyramid of trust” that I have for media outlets, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal are alone at the top. So if it’s their word against CNN’s, I’m not betting on CNN. All that being said, I simply love this story because it’s just straight out of a movie. A U.S. spy was in Russia for decades, worked undercover and rose to prominence in the Russian government, and became so high-ranking he was meeting regularly with Vladimir Putin. He then informed U.S. intelligence that Russia had a preference for Trump in 2016 and were helping spread disinformation to aid him, and amidst media reports about that intelligence had to decide whether to run or not. He initially refuses to leave, not wanting to blow his cover with family or the associates he’s made in Russia, but amidst mounting pressure realizes he has to go. Now he’s a rogue spy living who knows where, with a Russian bounty probably out for him, and everyone is denying he ever existed in the capacity U.S. news is reporting. The CIA and the Kremlin have said the story is “not true” and “pulp fiction,” respectively. All the politics aside, it’s simply riveting. You can read the The New York Times story here.
This story is still unfolding. NBC allegedly showed up at the spy’s house, which caused even more anger at CNN for exposing him. Jordan Schachtel, a fantastic reporter on national security, says the whole thing doesn’t smell right. Schachtel claims he found the spy’s name in two minutes and suspects either the whole story is off or the man is a double-agent now working for Russia.
Speaking of spies.
Valerie Plame, the former CIA spy who was infamously outed by Scooter Libby (that’s the guy Trump pardoned earlier this year for the crime of outing Plame), is running for New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district. It’s juicy stuff. You might remember Plame (a descendent of Ukrainian Jews) for the bizarre, anti-Semitic news articles she shared in 2017. Regardless, her campaign launch video is receiving lots of love for looking like Fast and Furious 12.
Your questions, answered.
Q: How in the world is Trump still our president? I know that’s broad but I just can’t understand with all the scandals, legal troubles, and obvious ethical issues that he isn’t in jail right now. It’s very worrying to me that our democratic system has allowed him to stay in office.
- Nicole, Allentown, PA
Tangle: The first and most important answer is that Trump’s presidency is actually going well for a huge portion of the country. If you go back to Election Day of 2016, you might remember that the economy was going to crash, new wars were going to start, nuclear bombs would be detonated and evidence would surface the president was working with Russia to win the election. It’s nearly three years later and none of those things have come to fruition. If the president had in fact run the economy into the ground there’s little chance Republicans would tolerate all the culture wars, division, scandals and embarrassment. But the Trump economy is doing well: unemployment is low, 401Ks are growing, the stock market (though volatile) is crushing, and even if a recession is coming it may not be until after the 2020 election.
Also, Republicans control the Senate. If Trump were actually found “guilty” of any crimes he committed while in office, which he hasn’t been, then impeachment proceedings would begin in the House of Representatives, which Democrats control. Even then, though, Trump would still have to be found guilty of something by two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate to actually be forced out of office. Politically, that seems extremely unlikely unless a new, bombshell, smoking gun scandal of criminal activity were to emerge.
From a scandal perspective, I agree that this presidency seems full of ugly news stories. Part of that is a reflection of one of the most aggressive eras of journalism in recent memory, which is almost certainly a product of how many reporters loathe Trump and how Trump loathes them. Part of it is a product of Trump’s long, storied history of cutting corners, cheating people out of money, and being associated with all sorts of white collar criminals. Before my Trump-supporting readers look for the unsubscribe button, please just hear me out. I live in New York City. Nearly every lawyer, politician, contractor or celebrity in this town who has worked with Trump has a story about him screwing someone over. Some people think that’s what it takes to win in a town like this, but there’s no question it happened. From real estate projects to Trump University to his casinos, the president does not have a reputation for treating people fairly. It’s why he’s had to settle quite a few lawsuits (he also seems to think he’s treated unfairly, and has consequently sued plenty of people, too).
But Trump’s superpower has always been moving the media narrative, moving the goalposts of what’s acceptable, and distracting the masses. Most recently, Trump sent everyone on a wild goose chase over the absurd hurricane warning debacle. I intentionally didn’t cover it in Tangle, since I didn’t think it was worth a fraction of the coverage it was getting, but it’s informative as it relates to your question. Basically, Trump tweeted out a warning that Alabama and a few other southern states would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian. Minutes later, the National Weather Service’s (NWS) station in Birmingham, Ala., said “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.” Their prompt response set off a media scramble to cover Trump issuing a false warning about Alabamians being in danger. Trump doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled down — until he mounted a dozen different defenses. It appeared that he altered a forecast map with a black sharpie to include Alabama, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross allegedly threatened to fire people who contradicted the president publicly, and Trump used earlier projections showing that Alabama would be hit by Dorian to justify his tardy warning and prove he was right. The story got a week of nonstop coverage, and by the end of it the waters were so murky there was no way anyone who hadn’t followed the story closely could clearly understand what happened: Trump made a small, stupid mistake, hunkered down for a fight, and the media chased it around wildly. Then, last week, Trump tweeted this out:
It’s an informative dig at CNN and many reporters. He’s the guy with the laser pointer, and we’re the cats. Of course, plenty of negative Trump media cycles are not the product of him mastering the press, they are a reflection of an administration that’s had its fair share of turmoil. The point is Trump’s “scandals” come in such barrages, and the folks covering them are so quick to move on, that very few actually stick. He’s also got the endurance to fight stories longer than many reporters are willing to push them, which helps him tremendously.
Along with his superpower, liberals have been led astray about Trump’s criminality. The president is almost certainly profiting off of his time in the White House, wasting taxpayer money on golf outings and travel to his resorts, and he very obviously orchestrated payments to keep the adult film star Stormy Daniels quiet, but did he coordinate with Russia to win the election? No. And he’s not the mastermind behind a plot to stay in office for 20 years. If anything, Trump is a reminder that in today’s America, much like for the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama, the president has an extraordinary amount of power and is nearly untouchable when it comes to the law. For decades, the power of public shame has been enough to force a president out, but Trump is — well — shameless. He has hardly given an inch in three years, he almost never apologizes and he’s managed to reshape what an entire party stands for and finds acceptable in just 34 months. All that is to say: POTUS isn’t going anywhere, not unless he’s beaten at the ballot box. But even then, Trumpism and the political culture he’s brought in will last for decades.
P.S. FWIW, House Democrats do seem to be expanding their impeachment inquiry.
A new ad from Dems.
Several Democratic nominees for president released a joint ad on gun violence yesterday.
A story that matters.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the conservative troll who was de-platformed for a series of mishaps that included a semi-endorsement of pedophilia and social media harassment, says he is broke. Milo was one of the first victims of Big Tech’s social media purge of right-wing personalities it deemed had gone too far. There’s been a lot of debate about whether de-platforming worked, or how ostracized personalities would recover, but it appears Milo is facing serious struggles. On the alternate site Telegram, which has become a new battleground for the exiled right-wing stars, Milo said he was struggling to make any money on new platforms and it was no longer worth his time to use the platforms. You can read more here.
Have a nice day.
An acid attack survivor who is being treated in London has had his eyesight restored. James O’Brien is the first patient to receive a “pioneering” stem cell treatment to restore his eyesight after being attacked with ammonia 20 years ago. The treatment could open the door for millions of visually impaired people who were thought to have permanent eye damage. Take a bite.
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