Tonight’s Bout: Mad Dog Mattis versus the Trump Transition Team

Back in the early part of the 20th Century as recent Jewish immigrants to New York City imitated the Irish and Dutch and Germans before them by creating ethic political machines, when you sought a job on New York’s Lower East Side the first question asked was “who is your rabbi?” From this one answer the potential employer could tell a lot about your politics, your background, and your relative political worth to his organization. Without the right rabbi, you didn’t get a good job.

This is not new. The Royal Navy during the age of sail was built on a system of “interest.” You were employed or left ashore on half-pay based entirely upon the power of your patrons of higher rank. A young man with the right connections would be made captain at the first opportunity. Admiral Lord Rodney made his son captain at age 15. If you had a powerful patron, other senior officers might favor you as a way of currying favor with their superior. Without interest you might never achieve promotion or even employment.

To a great extent, the executive branch is staffed on a “who’s your rabbi basis.” A cabinet secretary might get a few positions to fill with his personal favorites but most of the Schedule C employees in the federal government, from Deputy Secretary down to GS-9 “confidential secretaries” and “special assistants” will be filled from the White House. Most of them will be either political donors or campaign staff or represent some particular constituency (like veterans groups, for instance) that the administration view as keen. Their loyalty will be to someone in the White House, not to their cabinet secretary.

One of the interesting jobs I had in the Pentagon was a tour as a military aide to an assistant secretary in one of the civilian cabinet departments. The assistant secretary and his deputy not only didn’t like each other but had different patrons. The patron of the deputy was more powerful than my boss’s and so he couldn’t even get rid of his own deputy who undercut him to the White House at every opportunity. To call this way of operating dysfunctional is an understatement.

This is what is playing out now in the Department of Defense where Secretary of Defense-designee James Mattis is locked in a battle of wills with the Trump transition team.

The honeymoon seems to be ending between retired Gen. James N. Mattis and Donald Trump’s transition team amid an increasingly acrimonious dispute over who will get top jobs in the Defense Department — and who gets to make those decisions.

With only two weeks left before Inauguration Day and days before Mattis’s Senate confirmation hearing, most major Pentagon civilian positions remain unfilled. Behind the scenes, Mattis has been rejecting large numbers of candidates offered by the transition team for several top posts, two sources close to the transition said. The dispute over personnel appointments is contributing to a tenser relationship between Mattis and the transition officials, which could set the stage for turf wars between the Pentagon and the White House in the coming Trump administration.

Initially, both Mattis and the Trump team intended to engage in a collaborative process whereby Mattis would be given significant influence and participation in selecting top Pentagon appointees.

But the arrangement started going south only two weeks later when Mattis had to learn from the news media that Trump had selected Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, to be secretary of the Army, one source close to the transition said.

“Mattis was furious,” said the source. “It made him suspicious of the transition team, and things devolved from there.”

Service secretaries represent potential alternate power centers inside the Defense Department, and Mattis as defense secretary has an interest in having secretaries who are loyal to him and don’t have independent relationships with the White House.

What Mattis is doing is shrewd and he’s also one of the very few cabinet secretaries who can pull this off and make it stick.

Trump has invested a lot personal capital in appointing Mattis to be SecDef. As you know, in order for Mattis to be confirmed Congress must pass a special law waiving the provision of Title 10 US Code that requires a commissioned officer of the regular component of any service have been retired or separated for at least seven years before serving as SecDef. This gives Mattis immense leverage. The political drama of Mattis simply walking away over the White House not letting him appoint subordinates would be immense.

If Mattis is able to bludgeon the administration into giving him his choice of subordinates, he might very well be a truly transformative Defense Secretary. If I were betting on who wins this fight I know my money would be on Mattis.

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Obama’s Ethics Appointee Tries To Derail Confirmations Of Trump’s Cabinet

The way the Obama administration is acting in its final days reminds one of a wounded beast in its death throes. It knows it has been turned out of office but it is doing its level best to damage the incoming administration to the greatest extent possible. For instance:

The director of the federal Office of Government Ethics Office on Saturday accused Senate Republicans of rushing confirmations for nominees in President-elect Trump’s administration.

In a letter to leading Senate Democrats, Walter Shaub, Jr., the ethics office director, and the busy hearing schedule had overwhelmed his office. He said it had not completed doing ethics screening reviews on several nominees, which he described as a concern.

“As OGE’s director, the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me,” Walter Shaub, Jr., said in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Saturday. “This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews.”

Shaub’s letter to the senators comes just days before the Senate is set to hold a flurry of confirmation hearings beginning on Tuesday. In the letter, Shaub said that the schedule could leave some nominees with “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues.”

Despite the lofty and noble sounding title, keep two issues in mind. Shaub is a political appointee of Barack Obama. This letter was addressed to Democrats, not the actual leadership of the Senate. McConnell is only on the .cc line. Shaub, is, if you recall, the guy who used the official account of his agency to troll Donald Trump, the president-elect:

shaub-tweets

At the time he knew Trump had not engaged in any divestiture and had said, accurately, that the President is not covered by OGE rules.

Shaub actually has no statutory authority to intervene in the confirmation process. His office has no legal role in “clearing” nominees. Clearing nominees is done by the Senate. The sole functionof that office is to ensure that government employees covered by the ethics statue comply with the substance of the act, that is, avoiding conflicts of interest, and file the appropriate paperwork. The only legal requirement is simply that the appropriate reports be filed:

5 U.S.C. app. § 101. Persons required to file

(a) Within thirty days of assuming the position of an officer or employee described in subsection (f), an individual shall file a report containing the information described in section
102(b) unless the individual has left another position described in subsection (f) within thirty days prior to assuming such new position or has already filed a report under this title with
respect to nomination for the new position or as a candidate for the position.

Those “employee[s] described in subsection (f)” are the appointees Shaub is bitching about. Their legal requirement is to file forms within 30 days of being confirmed. And then to conform to the directives and advice the OGE gives them if their are real or potential conflicts.

“I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process,” he said.

This is a statement that The Hill helpfully points out is bullsh**.

The upcoming whirlwind of hearings isn’t the first time the Senate has pushed for such quick confirmations. In 2009, the Democratically controlled Senate confirmed seven of President Barack Obama’s cabinet picks in a single day.

And this is the closing paragraph

shaub-letter

SPOILER. Shaub leaves his job on January 20 with the rest of the Obama trash.

This is all pretty amusing coming from the office that decided the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton’s speechifying presented to ethical dilemma for Hillary Clinton.

Conflicts of interest are not trivial. If conflicts of interest are discovered after confirmation they are still required to be fixed or you lose your job and maybe end up in jail. The law doesn’t give you safe harbor because you sneaked past the confirmation hearing. If a Senate committee feels that the information it has is insufficient for confirmation, well, they can wait until they get the information. The OGE has no role in this process beyond ensuring ethics laws are followed unless the Senate decides to give it one.

What Shaub is doing is crying because he doesn’t have enough time to use his federal staff to dig up oppo for confirmation hearings.

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Trump REALLY Wants a Good Relationship With Russia

Russia is not our friend.

Russia is not our friend.

Russia is not our friend.

I felt it necessary to try and get a mantra started, for the sake of those who might be on the fence, in regards to any involvement by Russia, no matter how minor, in our elections, and if it’s “no big deal,” as some would have you believe.

That, and, Russia is not our friend.

The intelligence community released their report on the alleged Russian involvement in the hacking of emails (which were subsequently released by WikiLeaks) of various Democrat officials.

Their conclusion was that Vladimir Putin, Russian president, ordered that a cyber-campaign be conducted, in order to help Donald Trump win the election.

Here is where it gets sticky, and there has been discussion back and forth over whether the information they provided to WikiLeaks had any real effect on the election.

They didn’t hack into voting machines. Nobody is alleging that.

The notion is that they released so much negative, damning information on Clinton, that it turned attitudes towards Trump.

I didn’t see it in that report, but previous reports have mentioned Russian “bots,” that flooded social media with praise for Trump, even as the WikiLeaks evidence was making the Democrats look increasingly wretched.

Personally, I’m thinking in compiled terms.

Yes, the Russians likely did try to influence the election, by both making Hillary look bad with the released emails, and by creating the army of Trump-bots to blend in on social media, among the actual Trumpidians and flooding the internet with pro-Trump talk.

Yes, little egg people, I see you on Twitter, with your names such as, @Trumpgirl23927u or @MAGA12345.

And who cares if you only follow 12 people, and have only 4 or 5 followers, yourself? You still matter!

However, Hillary Clinton was just a pathetic, very beatable candidate. The Democrats couldn’t have picked a worse candidate to run, so Putin could have channeled those resources elsewhere and still ended up with a friend in Washington.

At least, Trump really, really wants to be his friend.

The man-crush is real!

From the report:

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report said.

Trump, who signaled throughout his presidential campaign that he was open to warmer relations with the Kremlin, has criticized United States intelligence agencies over reports about Russia’s cyber activity.

Trump went on to insist that the report showed that the intelligence community definitively stated that no voting machines were hacked.

Nobody suggested that the voting machines were hacked, actually, outside of a few, random nutters on the internet, and that was before the election, when they were so sure Trump would lose.

Saturday morning, however, Trump took to Twitter to signal that it’s time to embrace Russia with open arms.

I’m as big of a believer in extending the olive branch, as anyone. However, Putin’s Russia is not suddenly going to become the kind of regime that can be counted on as a reliable ally and friend.

They restrict religious freedoms, even more stringently than the leftists in America.

They execute journalists and political opponents.

Putin’s Russia is authoritarianism on steroids.

How do you befriend that sort of regime? Much less, how do you admire such a regime, as Trump has done, openly, ever since he began running for office?

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James Clapper, the Russian Hacking Report And the Liar’s Paradox (VIDEO)

Thursday, Senator Rand Paul, who is assuredly no Trump supporter, was on Chris Matthews’ Hardball (ever wonder why this is singular? just askin’). The subject was the yet unrealsed Intelligence Community assessment of Russian involvement in our election and, in Matthews’s view, Donald Trump’s obdurate refusal to go along with the media narrative that Russia cost Hillary Clinton her presidency and eventually her own museum on the National Mall.

TRANSCRIPT starts at 1:03

MATTHEWS: Anyway in today’s hearing James Clapper didn’t hesitate to say Assange shouldn’t be trusted.

VIDEO OF HEARING.

JOHN MCCAIN: The name of Mister Assange has popped up. Do you think there is any credibility we should attach to this individual given his record of…of…ahh…

JAMES CLAPPER: Not in my view.

MATTHEWS: I’m joined now by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. You’re smiling, too. This is the most bizarre thing in the world. It’s not a matter of who you like or who you owe or you’re angry at. Why does Trump keep denying the obvious… to the facts… he looks the facts in the face and says “I don’t believe them.” Russians had nothing to do with me winning, or even with trying to screw the Democrats.

PAUL: Well, I don’t think the Russians did change any votes or election. In Eastern Kentucky 70% of people voted for Donald Trump because he was against the regulations that were killing the coal industry in our state. But I would say this, no one is naive to say the Russians don’t hack into anything they can hack into, that the Chinese don’t, that the North Koreans don’t, the Iranians don’t, and half of our allies, and ourselves as well. So everybody is hacking into everybody. The bottom line for this is we should protect ourselves. We should understand how people get information, how they steal it, how they get into our computers, how they get into our email, and we must protect ourselves. Beyond that, I think we could beat a dead horse here in trying to blame the loss of the election on this, and I don’t think this election really had so much to do with this hacking as it had to do with different policies.

MATTHEWS: Well, the horse ain’t dead yet because Trump won’t admit the Russians helped.

PAUL: Well, the thing is I have a healthy degree of skepticism, like Mike Pence said as well. I have skepticism towards James Clapper who came to the U. S. Senate and before committee and under oath lied to us…

What is Paul talking about? Back on March 12, 2013, Clapper appeared before the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence. Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden had this exchange:

Wyden: “I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Sen. Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director (Keith Alexander) was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozens years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So, what I wanted to see if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper: “No, sir.”

Wyden: “It does not?”

Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”

In fact, as Rand Paul says, Clapper was lying through his teeth. And he did so under oath. And he didn’t have to lie, he could have simply offered to answer the question in closed session. But he chose to lie because is served his purpose.

The Liar’s Pardox is one of those interesting philosophical games that drunk undergrads become fascinated with. It has a long pedigree going back at least to Saint Jerome (d. 420 AD). This is from his Homily on Psalm 115. (It is worth reading if for no other reason than to see what level of sophistication the Church Fathers expected their congregations to have.) This is the meat of it:

“‘I said in my alarm, Every man is a liar!’ Is David telling the truth or is he lying? If it is true that every man is a liar, and David’s statement, “Every man is a liar” is true, then David also is lying; he, too, is a man. But if he, too, is lying, his statement: “Every man is a liar,” consequently is not true. Whatever way you turn the proposition, the conclusion is a contradiction. Since David himself is a man, it follows that he also is lying; but if he is lying because every man is a liar, his lying is of a different sort.

When Clapper is asked if we should give any credibility to Assange, he says no. On what basis? There is much to dislike and to distrust about Assange, but to date the stuff Assange’s Wikileaks has released has had much more credibility than any public utterance by Clapper. Likewise with his report on the election. Do we have any reason to actually believe this report is true or complete? None. Other than the word of James Clapper, a known and proven liar, that the report is truthful. I’m sorry. That just isn’t good enough.

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