Why Does President Trump Stay Loyal to Michael Flynn?

It’s a sign of how long the list of particulars against Michael Flynn has become that when I wrote about his legal liabilities yesterday, I failed to mention one of the most serious things he did while serving Donald Trump.

One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.

Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.

If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client.

Trump eventually would approve the Raqqa plan, but not until weeks after Flynn had been fired.

Vera Bergengruen of McClatchy reports that there are people in Congress who privately describe what Flynn did as treason, although most legal experts probably wouldn’t agree.

I just want to run through an exercise with you. Imagine for a moment that President-elect Trump did not know that Michael Flynn was being paid more than half a million dollars to lobby on behalf of Turkey. And imagine that he took Flynn’s advice on what to do about the planned attack on Raqqa at face value and went along with it on the presumption that it was untainted and honest analysis. This seems plausible to me.

But now try to imagine how Trump must have felt when he discovered that Flynn had concealed his Turkish contract from him. How would a normal person react?

It’s not just that Flynn wasn’t honest and that he gave self-serving advice that may not have been in the best interests of the country, but he also created all kinds of political problems for the president by concealing his Turkish connection from the folks in charge of vetting him and giving him security clearances. He didn’t register as a foreign agent, either.

If this is roughly the scenario that unfolded, then Trump should be furious with Flynn. How could he not be?

But Trump is still telling people that firing Flynn was a mistake, so maybe this isn’t an accurate depiction of what Trump knew.

Back in early March, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told the media that the president had no idea that Flynn was being paid to lobby for Turkey. At the same time, Vice-President Mike Pence told Fox News that he didn’t know a thing about Flynn’s Turkish work until he read in the papers that Flynn had retroactively registered as a foreign agent.

That was curious, though, because in mid-November both The Daily Caller and Politico reported that Flynn was taking money from the Turks. And, after reading those reports, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent Pence a letter in which he noted that Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelley, had confirmed the allegations. The letter was sent to Pence because he was leading the transition team at the time.

In truth, the White House acknowledged in March that “lawyers on the transition team” had known that Flynn might have to register as an agent of a foreign power because of his contract with Turkey. In fact, Flynn’s own legal team had raised the issue with the transition team and with soon-to-be White House counsel Don McGahn:

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump had not been aware Flynn might register as a foreign agent. He said Flynn’s lawyer had raised the possible filing with the transition team, but Trump’s attorneys responded that it was a personal matter and not something they would consult on.

“It’s a business matter, it’s not something that would be appropriate for a government entity to give someone guidance on when they should file as an individual,” Spicer said. He dismissed questions about whether Flynn’s work should have raised red flags for the new administration, saying the retired Army lieutenant general had “impeccable credentials.”

Among those told of Flynn’s lobbying work during the transition was Don McGahn, a campaign lawyer who has gone on to become White House counsel, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations between Flynn’s representatives and the transition team.

A White House official said McGahn and others were not aware of the details of Flynn’s work. It’s not clear why the Trump advisers did not seek additional information once Flynn’s lawyers raised the potential filing.

Now, it’s entirely possible that none of this came to the attention of Donald Trump. He had made it clear that he wanted Flynn as his National Security Adviser and his people probably were more interested in facilitating that desire than thwarting it.

But, if that’s the case, then shouldn’t Trump have been angry when he learned that Flynn had been advising him on Turkey without revealing that he was being heavily compensated by the Turkish government?

“A lot of people in the White House don’t want anything to do with Flynn,” one White House official said. ”But Trump loves him. He thinks everyone is out to get him.”

Under the circumstances, as they unfolded, Trump should have been the first person “out to get” Flynn. He should have felt a sense of personal betrayal. But he clearly doesn’t feel that way.

Instead, his first instinct was to try to protect Flynn. Most notably, after an Oval Office meeting with national security officials on the terrorism threat, “Trump asked everyone to leave except [FBI Director James] Comey,” and then he made a personal appeal for Comey to cut Flynn some slack. Even after this exchange became public, Trump made sure that official White House statements were crafted to defend Flynn: “While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”

Of course, the investigation of Flynn is not just or even primarily about Turkey, but on the Raqqa question alone Trump should be outraged. And he’s not.

Now, read the following and ask yourself how you would react in Trump’s place:

Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team, sources told CNN.

The conversations deeply concerned US intelligence officials, some of whom acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn, who was tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser, current and former governments officials said.

“This was a five-alarm fire from early on,” one former Obama administration official said, “the way the Russians were talking about him.” Another former administration official said Flynn was viewed as a potential national security problem.
The conversations picked up by US intelligence officials indicated the Russians regarded Flynn as an ally, sources said.

If it were me, I’d be suspicious that Flynn had been working for the Russians all along and had been dishonest in his dealings with me and in the advice he had provided me on foreign policy. Maybe I wouldn’t want to admit as much publicly, but I also wouldn’t be inclined to say he was “a decent man who served and protected our country.”

I know it’s difficult to put yourself in Trump’s shoes because he’s a very unusual personality type. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump is doing one of two things.

The first possibility is that Trump knows full-well that Flynn was working for the Russians because he was working for them, too.

The second possibility is that, for whatever reasons, he can’t allow Flynn to talk to investigators because it would expose misdeeds of his own.

These two possibilities aren’t mutually exclusive, but at least one of them must be true.

Most people are going to gravitate to the second possibility because it’s less grave in its consequences. Perhaps the misdeeds Trump is hiding are not so serious. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit that he didn’t properly vet Flynn or he is trying to hide that he asked Flynn to interact with Ambassador Kislyak because he wanted to start his relations with Russia with a clean slate. Perhaps he’s acting loyally to Flynn in part because Flynn only did what he was told to do and in part because the truth would expose that he’s told some rather extraordinary lies.

Even if we allow for this more innocent explanation, however, it’s really very damning. Trump has repeatedly acted to stymie and shut down an investigation of Flynn, committing clear acts of obstruction of justice that would result in imprisonment for anyone not shielded by the Office of the Presidency’s protections against prosecution. If he did all this to avoid mere embarrassment and survivable political headaches, that’s kind of incredible.

And consider that Trump would in this more innocuous scenario still have plenty of reasons to be furious with Flynn. He’d be hiding that perfectly normal and understandable human emotion and presenting public support for him for purely self-serving reasons. Basically, he’d be saying nice things about Flynn and sending him text messages to “stay strong” and firing the FBI director not because he’s pleased with Flynn but because he’s desperate to keep him from talking.

There’s a narrative that follows somewhat along these lines without quite fleshing out all the implications. The narrative basically says that Trump simply doesn’t understand that he’s obstructing justice. He doesn’t realize that he’s not supposed to ask the Director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to lie on his behalf or to ask the FBI director to quash a counterintelligence investigation and then fire him when he does not. The evidence for this is that he freely admits to (some of) his crimes, which a normal person would not do.

And it’s true. There’s something inexplicable about Trump’s behavior because it mixes such a clear consciousness of guilt with actions that would only be taken rationally by a person who feels innocent. More and more, his only defense is a kind of bottomless cluelessness that caroms off in every direction. He’s a dupe of the Russians rather than a witting participant. He doesn’t understand when he’s been used and betrayed even when it’s staring him squarely in the face. He has no clue what was done by his operatives, so his sense of innocence is real. He thinks the people who he asks to clear him can do so truthfully because he’s got no attachment to anything approximating reality. He erroneously thinks the president can do whatever he wants because he has a misimpression of how the Constitution and our system of checks and balances are designed to work.

Some people think these hypotheses are both plausible and a defense against removal from office.

The truth is, the more plausible these theories are, the more urgently they argue for his removal from office.

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Esquire: “Is There a Point to All This Cruelty?”

Charles P. Pierce blogs regularly for Esquire, and he is one of the few mainstream writers who understands the creeping (now galloping) privatization of public education and knows that it is a very bad thing for our society.

You will enjoy reading this post, unless you are Betsy DeVos.

With the proposed budget cuts to the federal budget for education, he writes, DeVos isfinding ways to fulfill her life’s dream of destroying public education and monetizing all those bright shiny faces.

He writes:

Betsy DeVos does not know anything about public education except that she doesn’t believe in it as a concept. Free public education is one of the unquestioned triumphs of the American experiment, but it’s a disposable commodity to a know-nothing fanatic who married into a vast fortune and dedicated a lot of it to wrecking public education. One of the worst things about electing an unqualified dolt to be president is that the dolt’s administration is a paradise for free-range maniacs and their personal crusades. This is a case in point.

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Betsy DeVos Will Testify Today on Capitol Hill, Extolling Charters and Choice

Politico Morning Education has an advance copy of DeVos’ testimony.

She will defend the administration’s draconian budget cuts by asserting that choice is the only “reform” that matters.

EDUCATION SECRETARY BETSY DEVOS TO FACE LAWMAKERS: DeVos is back on Capitol Hill today to testify for the first time since her contentious confirmation hearing. She could take some hostile questions before a House appropriations subcommittee about the administration’s budget proposal, which seeks to cut 13 percent from Education Department programs while also giving $1 billion to school choice efforts that would encourage charter schools, private school vouchers and more freedom for traditional public school students to pick a school in their district they want to attend.

– During her testimony , DeVos is expected to explain that an administration goal is to promote local education funding systems that “expand educational choice in our public school systems,” according to prepared remarks obtained by Morning Education. Other goals include funding state and local efforts that support scholarship programs that allow students to attend private schools and take advantage of other educational options and boosting a federal charter schools program. “Each of these proposals reflects my strong belief that a greater focus on student-centered reforms is the next logical step following the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which recognized and restored the primary role of states and school districts in operating a public education system that puts students and parents first,” she will say, according to the testimony.

– DeVos is also expected to say that while past presidents have “attempted to find the right set of levers here in Washington” to improve schools, that “unfortunately, I don’t think any of us are happy with the results of these seemingly endless, Washington-led reform efforts.” But she’ll point to the $4 billion the federal government has spent over the years to help start charter schools as an exception, referring to charter schools as “a bottom-up, locally driven education reform strategy based on empowering educators and providing choices to students and families.”

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A Terrifying View From the President of the United States

Last month Donald Trump took the initiative to call Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. The reporting at the time was that it was a friendly conversation that ended with the US President extending an invitation for an Oval Office meeting.

But now the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has released a transcript of the call, which has been confirmed as accurate by the White House. It reveals a truly terrifying view from Trump. Here is how the president opened the conversation.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Mr. Duterte responded that drugs were “the scourge of my nation now, and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.” Mr. Trump responded that “we had a previous president who did not understand that,” an apparent reference to President Barack Obama, “but I understand that.”

You might remember that when Obama criticized Duterte for his murderous approach, the Philippine President called him the “son of a whore” and an “idiot” who “can go to hell.” Obviously Trump was totally copacetic with that.

Reporters at the Intercept have provided some background on what the president was congratulating Duterte for doing.

Since Duterte took office in June, Philippine national police and vigilante death squads have embarked on a campaign to slaughter drug users as well as drug dealers. “Hitler massacred three million Jews [sic], now, there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said in September. Last month, he told a group of jobless Filipinos that they should “kill all the drug addicts.” Police have killed over 7,000 people, devastated poor areas of Manila and other cities, and used the drug war as a pretext to murder government officials and community leaders…

Duterte’s police killings are widely recognized by the international community as an ongoing atrocity. The “war on drugs” has drawn condemnation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and last month a Philippine lawyer filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Duterte of mass murder and crimes against humanity. The State Department’s annual human rights report acknowledges thousands of “extrajudicial killings” with impunity and calls them the country’s “chief human rights concern.”

It is truly breathtaking to consider the fact that the current President of the United States would congratulate a foreign leader for that. Of course, we’ve heard him praise authoritarian dictators before, but those have mostly been general comments rather than affirmations of their specific behavior. Perhaps no strongman on the planet right now is as murderous as Duterte, who—as we see above—has proudly compared himself to Hitler. That is the kind of leader our current president admires.

That is especially alarming given that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is reigniting the war on drugs in this country at the same time that they are basically ending oversight for police brutality and abuse. I keep wanting to tell myself that this administration couldn’t replicate Duterte’s approach here. But Trump is certainly signaling where he would go if given the opportunity, and we can count on the Justice Department to look the other way if local jurisdictions cross the line.

Beyond all that, back when Duterte was mouthing off about Obama, he did so in Beijing, where he added this:

America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow. And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.

Duterte followed through on that idea and has been in Moscow this week. I suspect that he now thinks that there are four of them “against the world,” with Trump added to his list. And we can imagine the smile that brings to Putin’s face.

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Arizona: Vouchers Used by Students from Good Schools in Affluent Districts, Not Low-Income Students from Bad Schools

The Arizona Republic conducted an analysis to learn which students were using vouchers. Remember that vouchers are supposed to “save poor kids from failing schools.” But that is not what is happening in Arizona!

As Arizona’s school-voucher program has expanded rapidly in the past year, students using taxpayer aid to transfer from public to private schools are abandoning higher-performing districts in more-affluent areas, according to an Arizona Republic analysis.

This year, more than 75 percent of the money pulled out of public schools for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program came from districts with an “A” or “B” rating, the analysis showed. By contrast, only 4 percent of the money came from school districts rated “D” or lower.

The findings undercut a key contention of the lawmakers and advocacy groups pressing to expand the state’s ESA program: that financially disadvantaged families from struggling schools reap the benefit of expanded school choice.

Critics, meanwhile, argue the program is largely being used by more-affluent families to subsidize their private-school tuition bills. The ESA program allows parents to take 90 percent of the money that would have gone to their school district and put it toward private school, home schooling and other educational programs.

The Empowerment Scholarship Account program funding grew to approximately $49 million this year, from about $30 million last year, according to February data from the Arizona Department of Education, which oversees the program. Republicans in the Legislature are advancing bills that would expand the program from the 3,360 students currently using it to all 1.1 million Arizona public school students after four years.

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The legislature pulled a fast one on taxpayers. Taxes are being used to subsidize students from affluent families at private schools, not poor kids from low-performing schools.

This is a hoax!

Hello, Arizona taxpayers! How do you feel about your taxes subsidizing the private school tuitions of rich kids?

Hello, retirees! Do you really want your taxes to be used to destroy the public education system that benefited you, your children, and your grandchildren?

Hat tip to Pat Hale for bringing this important article to my attention.

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Message to Trump: Christine Pellegrino Won Seat by 56-44% in Pro-Trump District

Winning an Assembly seat in one state is not the biggest deal in the nation. There are key Congressional races in Montana and Georgia in the next few days. Rob Quist is running for Montana’s only House seat, and Jon Ossoff is running to capture the seat once held by Newt Gingrich and Tom Price. I have sent money to both. Flipping the House in 2018 is crucial to stopping Trump’s cruel and counterproductive budget cuts to education, health, research, science, on and on.

But this is a small harbinger, hopefully, of things to come. Christine Pellegrino won an Assembly seat on Long Island in a district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016. Christine is a teacher, a BAT, an activist in the opt out movement.

It was not a close race. She won by 56-44%.

Woo-hoo!

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South Carolina: New Charters Built with EB-5 Visa Boondoggles

You may recall reading a story recently about Jared Kushner’s sister soliciting investments in Kushner real estate deals at a meeting in Beijing, where she promised that investors of at least $500,000 would get a green card in exchange. Investing in charter school construction is another way in which the EB-5 visas are up for grabs.

This story from South Carolina demonstrates how foreign investors are buying green cards by investing in charter school construction, and the middlemen are raking in money at exorbitant interest rates.

A handful of S.C. charter schools — finally in new school buildings — are poised to pay out millions in taxpayer dollars to middlemen, developers and foreign investors who want green cards.

The money, paid in the form of high-interest rent payments on the new school facilities, has some critics saying that the state’s taxpayers are getting duped. Money they believe is paying for S.C. students’ education is instead going to this relatively new network of out-of-state players who are charging high interest rates, as well as wealthy Chinese nationals searching for a quicker path into to the country.

And it’s all happening with federal government approval.

“They were taken for a terrific ride and are paying this high interest rate. It’s remarkable,” said David North, a fellow with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., “They could end up paying more in interest than the (cost to construct the school).”

Figuring out just who is getting paid what is complicated and is not readily available in one place. Take, for example, Lowcountry Montessori School in Port Royal, a charter school that serves about 400 students in preschool through the 11th grade.

Through a controversial federal program called EB-5, the school received $1.5 million from three foreign investors to build its school building that opened last school year on Broad River Drive.

Critics have long charged that the program allows rich immigrants to buy their way into the country. And in recent years, cases of fraud and concerns about national security have also plagued the program.

The Port Royal school’s financial arrangement was put together by American Charter Development, a Utah-based company, that secured another $4 million for the new building and constructed the school.

The school is now leasing its $5.5 million building from ACD at a whopping 9 percent annual rate of the school’s construction costs. If the school were to make only the minimum payments over the course of the 20-year lease, $5.6 million of its $10.3 million in lease payments would be interest, according to the school’s most recent audit.

Worked into those lease payments is another key player — Utah-based Education Fund of America, a for-profit company which is receiving a 7.3 percent annual fee on the $1.5 million it secured in EB-5 funding for the school.

And then there are the three unnamed foreign entrepreneurs who actually invested the $1.5 million. The school will pay them back as well, likely including a small return on their investment of around 1 percent, say those familiar with the EB-5 program. The repayment is also included in the lease arrangement.

By comparison, the Beaufort County School District is paying just 1.6 percent interest on its construction bonds for its new May River High School that opened last year.

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