Cold front on Moscow
They’re not on the same page. Maybe not even reading from the same book.
Donald Trump’s nominees to lead the Defense Department and the CIA — retired Gen. James Mattis and Rep. Mike Pompeo — voiced harsher views than their boss-to-be on Russia President Vladimir Putin at their Senate confirmation hearings.
“Right now, the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with with Mr. Putin,” said Mattis. “And we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance and that we take the steps ... to defend ourselves where we must.”
Pompeo, going where Trump won’t, called Russian attempts to influence the election an “aggressive action.” Contrary to what Trump has said, Pompeo added Russia was “doing nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat” of ISIS.
Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, also tried to strike a tougher pose on Russia a day earlier, though not enough to suit hawks like Sen. Marco Rubio.
It all suggests retired Gen. Mike Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, may be the most Putin-friendly voice at the table. Other than Trump himself.
That itchy Twitter finger
Trump's tweets early Friday displayed a dose of the new abnormal. Read here and judge for yourself.
-- Hillary Clinton's camp shouldn't complain about the FBI's announcements now under probe since she should never have been "allowed" to run.
-- His Cabinet picks are "doing a great job" and "I want them to be themselves ..."
-- All allegations were crafted by a "failed spy afraid of being sued." Also, "both Democrats and Republicans" are responsible for falsities.
Yes, it seems to be a thing. Trump tweets do set off stock buying and selling, though we have yet to see the full effect or its obvious potential for corruption. Experts advise caution. Actual charts and information are still needed. In addition, Trump's de facto advertisement on the social medium for LL Bean in exchange for supporting him (see below) would be a violation of rules if he does it after Inauguration Day.
Accuracy is a longer-range problem. Several more examples emerged this week of Trump on Twitter telling it not like it is but like he wants you to believe it is, including false claims of responsibility for affecting jobs in the auto industry. Fact checks here.
Doing the waive
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 24-3 to waive a law requiring the nominee to have been retired from the military for seven years, moving Mattis a step closer to confirmation, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.
Voting no were three Democrats: Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The take-away: The IC
The word “community” in “intelligence community” makes it all sound rather benign.
That’s not the case, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. The 17 agencies — the CIA, NSA and FBI included — spy, gather data, target criminals and terrorists, authorize violence in the name of the state and, at times, impinge on civil liberties.
Trump gets a Biden chidin’
Vice President Joe Biden said Trump’s repeated belittling of U.S. intelligence agencies has “played into the Russian narrative” on the world scene that “America doesn’t know what they’re doing, you don’t want to hang out with those guys.”
“It is really very damaging, in my view, to our standing in the world for a president to take on the crown jewels of our national defense and denigrate it,” Biden told reporters during an interview in his office.
Rudy vs. cyberthreats
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — passed over by Trump for secretary of state — was named by Trump to lead a cybersecurity task force aimed at hardening defenses against hacking threats, Newsday’s Laura Figueroa reports.
Giuliani, who served as a key campaign adviser to Trump, told reporters he was qualified to lead the task force because he has “traveled the world studying cybersecurity.” The president-elect’s push for cyberhacking defenses has been part of his effort to steer the subject away from whether Russians helped him.
Probe handling of email case
The Justice Department inspector general will investigate department and FBI actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton.
The scope of the inquiry covers actions and announcements that were criticized as harmful to Clinton by her campaign and being too easy on her by detractors. Clinton blamed Trump’s come-from-behind win on Comey’s late-campaign announcements of an on-again, off-again revival of the email case.
Spinning for the win
A Trump defender in Congress had a creative way to play down the impact of the Russian hacking on the election.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) found equivalence in “Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers” appearing at Democratic get-out-the-vote events in Las Vegas. “Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada,” Conaway told The Dallas Morning News.
Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) defended Trump’s comparison of leaking intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany. He said it shows the president-elect’s “sense of humor.”
What else is happening
- Haphazard governance and the high turnover it's expected to create could benefit patronage-seekers not in the first wave of appointments such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Politico suggests.
- Pompeo testified that he would not obey orders if Trump asked him to use torture for terrorist interrogations. Mattis has already told Trump why he thinks waterboarding is a bad idea.
- Conflicts will arise for the president-elect given his existing international business deals -- even if he fulfills his promise not to cut any new ones during his presidency, according to the Wall Street Journal.
- Trump tweeted a plug for L.L. Bean, the outdoor gear and apparel company, after it became the target of a boycott because one of its family owners was a pro-Trump donor. The company itself said it doesn’t take sides — “We stay out of politics.”
- New York’s Chuck Schumer said he will oppose Jeff Sessions for attorney general, but Senate confirmation of the Alabama senator still seemed likely with the backing of the GOP majority and at least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
- Capitol Hill Republicans speaking about Trump’s plan to avoid business conflicts of interest for the most part sound satisfied, Politico reports. Democrats are not.
- Childhood vaccination foes are excited that Trump seems sympathetic to their cause, but federal power to set policy on the issue is limited. It’s largely a matter for states, the news site Vocativ reports.
- Israeli intelligence officials are worried that secret information they share with the United States could be leaked under a Trump administration to Russia and then passed on to Iran, an Israeli journalist writes.