Who Leaked the Transcripts?

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And Does the End Justify the Means?

It’s axiomatic that if foreign heads of government cannot have private conversations with the President and others in our government—if they reasonably anticipate that their exact words will be printed in the press—then they will cease to have candid conversations. Either they will stop talking at all, or, if they do talk, they will only mouth the same bullshit they would serve up in a campaign rally.

This is terrible. The reasons are obvious, but David Frum’s analysis is still worth a read.

And, in addition to major injury to American interests, leaking the transcripts was a crime.

Who Done It? And Why?

We know they are the real transcripts because the White House did not claim otherwise, or ask the Washington Post not to publish. (That, per the WaPo’s reporter, on Morning Joe.)

So who leaked the transcripts? To begin with the obvious: you can’t leak the real transcripts unless you have the real transcripts. There are, then, essentially three possibilities.

Scenario Number One: It Was the “National Security Establishment”

One possibility—perhaps the most obvious one—is that someone in the State Department or the military was the leaker. David Frum lays out the case:

Senior national-security professionals regard Trump as something between (at best) a reckless incompetent doofus and (at worst) an outright Russian espionage asset. The fear that a Russian mole has burrowed into the Oval Office may justify, to some, the most extreme actions against that suspected mole.

The nature of this particular leak suggests just such a national-security establishment origin. It is a very elegantly designed leak. The two transcripts belong to calls whose substance was already widely reported in the media; they give away nothing new.

Better still from a national-security establishment point of view: both calls make the foreign leader look good at home. Enrique Peña Nieto will be helped, not hurt, by his dignified defense of Mexican national interests; Malcolm Turnbull is shown being simultaneously compassionate to deserving refugees but stern in his defense of Australian law and preexisting agreements with the United States.

Best of all, from that same national-security point of view, the transcripts reveal Trump as an arrant fool without actually compromising any important U.S. national interest. Speaking to the president of Mexico, Trump claims he won the state of New Hampshire because it is a “drug-infested den.” Trump won the state’s Republican primary, but lost New Hampshire in 2016, and that quote will not help him do better in 2020. The Turnbull transcript confirms the accuracy of early reports that Trump erupted in temper—and exposes Trump’s claims about the call as untrue. …

Scenario Number Two: It Was Trump’s Posse

We have it on good authority that pretty much everybody in the White House is leaking like a sieve. And some of those leaks—especially of late—seem to have come from members of Trump’s coterie who want to reveal just how bad things are getting, as a step toward protecting Trump from himself. For example, this afternoon Jonathan Chait—speaking in general terms, not specifically about the transcript leaks—had this to say:

During his very brief tenure as communications director, Anthony Scaramucci blurted out something very telling: “There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.” The conviction that Trump is dangerously unfit to hold office is indeed shared widely within his own administration. Leaked accounts consistently depict the president as unable to read briefing materials written at an adult level, easily angered, prone to manipulation through flattery, subject to change his mind frequently to agree with whomever he spoke with last, and consumed with the superficiality of cable television.

Scenario number two seems like a definite possibility.

Scenario Number Three: Trump

Today Morning Joe advanced another highly plausible theory: that the leak was engineered by Trump himself. And who on God’s green earth might he do such a thing, given that the transcripts make him look like an idiot?

Because

  • he’s so oblivious that he doesn’t know the transcripts make him look like an idiot, and because
  • he thinks, correctly, that his base will be pleased to see him being nasty to foreign leaders—and will not grasp that the transcripts make him look like an idiot, and because
  • the obvious damage to national security will allow him to claim, once again, that the press is the enemy of the people.

Now, this is truly a harebrained idea. But it’s the very sort of harebrained idea that an improvisational narcissist would come up with, in the misguided view that he’s cuter than Bambi.

And, By the Way, Does the End Justify the Means?

Under scenario three, obviously not.

Under scenarios one or two, well, as my philosophy professor used to say, if the end does not justify the means, then what does justify them?

 

An Increasingly Confused Mental State

Recently I posted on the topic, I Actually Think His Mental State is Deteriorating. This morning, Morning Joe and his merry band—surely not Aardvark followers—picked up on the very same point. The Andrew Jackson/Civil War madness. The Duterte White House invitation. The anticipated honor of talking to Kim Jong Un. The utter incoherence on his health care message. The catastrophic interview with John Dickerson.

This man is not well.

He was not well to begin with. Now that he’s losing, losing, losing, he’s breaking down.

Stephen Miller, Wunderkind of Clusterfuck

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On Monday, January 30, Morning Joe used his initial rant time to

  • identify White House staffer Stephen Miller as the author of the executive order on immigration,
  • assert that Miller failed to consult with attorneys at the Justice Department or elsewhere, and
  • generally damn Miller to hell.

The burden of Joe’s morning rant was that Mr. Miller is young, lacking in experience, wanting in judgment, and badly in need of adult supervision, or better yet, in need of being told not to let the door  hit him where the Good Lord split him as he walks out.

Aardvark seconds that emotion.

But I have uncovered some additional reasons to conclude that, while we may be in good hands with Allstate, we are not in good hands with Mr. Miler.

Firstly, though he was (per Morning Joe) drafting a legal document of vast import, Mr. Miller did not in fact darken the door of any law school and is not a member of the bar.

Secondly, his experience in government comes from being an aide to Michelle Bachman and then to Jeff Sessions.

Thirdly, he is a nutjob, who was raised in a liberal family but experienced politico-religious conversion through his reading of Guns, Crime, and Freedom by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association.

Having done yeoman service for Bachman and Sessions, he was hired by Cory Lewandowski to work for Trump, where his reputation for nuttiness grew to an epic scale.

Oh, and by the way, Morning Joe assured us that he had spoken with some of the adults on the Trump foreign policy team, and that a clusterfuck like the one we witnessed this weekend definitely will not happen again.

Oh, yes it will.

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Show Biz, Spicy Facts, and Shooting the Messenger

Joining Ms. Conway as a national joke is Sean Spicer. The Huffington Post has collected these jewels, among many others.

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Morning Joe joins the chorus of those calling for Trump’s good advisors to throw out his bad advisers, and fulminates over lack of experience. But then Joe lets slip the truth that a fish rots from the head down. And therein, of course, lies the problem, because good advisors might possibly put the fish in the freezer and slow down the rot, but they can’t undo the decay.

Paul Krugman wonders whether, when bad news comes, as it inevitably will, Trump will shoot the messenger. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports rising unemployment, will The Donald denounce the statisticians for joining the conspiracy against him?

Of course he will. Because he’s delusional. He really did see those thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the twin towers.

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The Oval Office Effect, Vindictive Tweets, and No Freakin’ Idea*

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Once again this morning, Morning BLO and his merry band plead with the Donald to start acting like a grownup and try to marshal evidence that his long awaited maturity from childhood into adolescence might at least be taking place.

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman reports that he has pretty much given up on any hopes for mature and decent behavior—and marshals overwhelming evidence of “immaturity, a lack of respect for the office he’s about to hold, a person easily distracted by shiny objects, and a lack of basic decency.” He illustrates his point with multiple retweets.

Will Trump take a stroll down the road to Damascus, or will he be be the same person that 48.2 percent of us wisely voted against and 46.1 percent of us unwisely voted to elect? The correct answer comes, of course, from Joe Biden: “We have no freakin’ idea what he’s gonna do.”

*Thanks to Vasari for calling the image to my attention. It’s subject to copyright, but this is fair use.