Archive

January 15th, 2017

It's almost impossible to see how James Comey did the right thing with Hillary Clinton's email server

    You can debate whether FBI Director James Comey's late-October announcement that potentially relevant information had been uncovered regarding Hillary Clinton's private email server cost her the presidential election. But with the wisdom of hindsight, it's virtually impossible to defend his decision to make such a show of a discovery that, ultimately, amounted to nothing.

    Comey's actions in the late stages of the 2016 presidential campaign seem likely to be the focus of a just-announced inspector general's investigation of the conduct of the FBI in the run-up to the November election. Writes The Washington Post's Matt Zapotosky:

    "The probe will be wide ranging - encompassing the FBI's various public statements on the matter, whether its deputy director should have been recused and whether Department of Justice or FBI employees leaked non-public information, according to a news release from Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz."

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What the bleep happened at the Trump news conference?

    In case you are just now waking up from a coma, let me tell you what happened Wednesday at Donald Trump's first press conference as president-elect. (Yes, that Donald Trump! He will be the next president!)

    First, he has decided that his official position on the kinds of conflicts of interest that might arise if he kept running his business while president is that If The President Does It, It Is No Conflict. Thus, any steps he takes to take his business out of his hands are from the simple, self-sacrificing kindness of his heart. Why, just the other day, someone offered him $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai! Two billion dollars! And would you believe it: He didn't take it. His point is, we should be grateful. As he repeatedly stressed, he doesn't have to do this! This whole president thing -- it's really a big pain, and he doesn't have to do it at all! (In fact, I wish he wouldn't.)

    He will not release his tax returns, as the results of the election clearly demonstrated that they are of no interest to anyone but reporters. And nuts to reporters, is he right?

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Trump's presser was remarkable. It means we're heading into truly uncharted territory.

    At his presser today, Donald Trump confirmed the very worst fears of ethics experts, announcing a new arrangement for his business holdings that is designed to garner nice headlines but is unlikely to do much to reduce the possibility of conflicts of interest and, possibly, full-blown corruption.

    Trump did nothing to address the central ethical problem he faces: He will not divest himself of his holdings, only transferring control of them to his two sons. The Washingotn Post sums up the arrangement:

    "Trump will shift his assets into a trust managed by his sons and give up management of his private company….

    "The announcement included a pledge from a Trump lawyer that the company would make 'no new foreign deals whatsoever' during Trump's presidency, and that any new domestic deals would undergo vigorous review, including approval by an independent ethics adviser.

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January 14th

Trump, Sex and Lots of Whining

    Finally, Donald Trump held a press conference. I know you want to hear the sex-in-Russia part.

    The world learned this week about memos from a retired British intelligence officer on relations between the Trump campaign and the Russians. They included some speculation about whether there were compromising videos of Trump cavorting in a Russian hotel that might explain his enthusiastic support for Vladimir Putin.

    The report wasn’t prepared by our intelligence agencies — it was opposition research done on contract for some other campaigns. It had been bouncing around Washington for a while. You didn’t hear about it because nobody could confirm any of the allegations.

    But a summary of the memos showed up in the briefing Trump got from the intelligence agencies last week. Wouldn’t you have liked to be there to see the reaction?

    Then a version of the report showed up online, and naturally it came up Wednesday at Trump’s press conference.

    About that press conference. Here are some of the things we learned:

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Obama to Americans: No one's going to defend democracy for you

    There was always a double meaning to "Yes we can," Barack Obama's 2008 catchphrase that reappeared near the end of his Tuesday night farewell address. In this democracy, Americans have the power to succeed, but we bear responsibility if we fail. And, oh boy, do we have some explaining to do.

    More than eight years after it propelled him to the White House, President Obama recapitulated this message, both empowering and demanding, in what may be the last decent thing we will hear from the president of the United States for a while.

    Obama's address was at once an inspiring declaration that change need not be feared; an indictment of the lard and laziness of our political culture, in which partisanship and cynicism are mistaken for virtues and the only pertinent question is who's to blame; and an expression of faith that a rising generation of Americans - one that is "unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic" - would be wiser and more public-spirited than the failed baby-boom generation has been.

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Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. just made pediatricians' jobs a lot harder

    Donald Trump just made my job harder. The work of every medical provider for children is likely to become more difficult, and our nation may well become sicker.

    Yesterday, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced that Trump had asked him to head a commission to study the safety of vaccines. Saying "we ought to be debating the science," as he left Trump Tower, Kennedy caused grave concern for those of us who truly understand that science. A proponent of the thoroughly debunked theory that vaccines cause autism, Kennedy's implication that any real debate exists is genuinely troubling.

    Hardly a day I spend in the office goes by when I don't give vaccines. I do so because I know there is no actual debate. I do so as a pediatrician because the welfare of my patients, welfare I took an oath to safeguard, depends on protecting them against diseases that could seriously sicken or kill them.

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BuzzFeed's ridiculous rationale for publishing the Trump-Russia dossier

    It's a cliche for editors: Let readers decide for themselves. It is most commonly uttered in reference to public policy debates or investigative revelations, when arguments have been presented and facts are well established.

    On Tuesday, BuzzFeed plopped the term into a very different context. In a story with three bylines -- Ken Bensinger, Mark Schoofs and Miriam Elder -- the news division of the popular website published a dossier of allegations pertaining to Donald Trump and Russia.

    It describes attempts by Russian officials to cultivate Trump and gather compromising material on him. The existence of the document isn't a scoop: Mother Jones' David Corn before the election discussed some of the material, and CNN on Tuesday scooped a story under the plain-language headline, "Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him."

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BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious 'dossier' on Trump

    Where does transparency meet irresponsibility? Right at the line that BuzzFeed's editor Ben Smith approached on Tuesday and decided to step over in the name of serving citizens' best interests.

    With caveats and explanations aplenty, Smith published a 35-page "dossier" - actually just a bunch of scurrilous allegations dressed up as an intelligence report meant to damage Donald Trump.

    Smith said he did so because his, and BuzzFeed's preference and philosophy is, essentially, "when in doubt, publish." But at many other news organizations, the rule is caution: "When in doubt, leave it out."

    In this case, the doubt should have prevailed. News organizations and government officials have known for months that this information, if it can be called that, existed. But despite many attempts, the claims about Trump's behavior and relationships in Russia could not be verified.

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After the Trump dossier, James Comey is running out of excuses

    The rash of stories on Donald Trump and Russia published Tuesday leave many questions unanswered. The allegations, as sensational as some are and as damning as others are, are just that: allegations. Intelligence agencies (not to mention countless news outlets) have sought to verify them for months now, with little or no success. Though it might be nice to imagine Trump's presidency collapsing before it's even begun, the fact remains that we know little more now than we did last week about Trump's ties to Russia and whether Vladimir Putin's government has compromising information on the president-elect. There is one thing we do know, though: FBI Director James Comey's intervention in the election last October -- controversial at the time -- looks completely indefensible now.

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A note of gratitude for Meryl Streep

    Thank you, Meryl Streep.

    I often have been annoyed by Hollywood stars who use award shows to make political statements, although I have made exceptions for those who support causes that I also happen to support. Call me human.

    I would have been delighted by Streep's pitch for press freedom and the Committee to Protect Journalists even if -- full disclosure -- I were not a member of its board.

    Streep, who supported Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, criticized Trump in her speech for mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability. Trump denies that he was mocking the reporter. Yet videotape appears quite clearly to show him entertaining a rally crowd by mocking the reporter.

    Of course, Trump responded to Streep by ignoring her, right? After all, a president-elect has more important things to worry about than the displeasure of a Hollywood star, right? Yes, I'm kidding. After all, we're talking about Donald Trump, long-time believer, as one of his biographers put it, of "counter-punching" even the mildest attack.

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