Welcome to Follow Up Friday. We’ll start doing this more often, tracking the ripples caused by stories that have made a big splash.
For instance, Donald Trump’s sliming of America’s intelligence professionals – one of his many depridations during Wednesday night’s candidate forum – has rightly infuriated defense experts and CIA veterans, including George W. Bush’s spook-in-chief. These intel pros know full well, even if Trump’s fans are incapable of processing the obvious, that this loose-lipped fraud is a clear and present danger to our national security.
Just to review: Trump is getting intelligence briefings now (eye roll), and we knew this would be trouble, because it’s akin to giving a loaded gun to a toddler.
Sure enough, on Wednesday night, he proceeded to publicly discuss the confidential briefing he received several weeks ago, claiming in essence that his briefers violated their own professional standards: “What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our (briefers) said to do. And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance. And I could tell you. I have pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.”
The intelligence community was blown away by those remarks – starting with the fact that Trump opened his yap in the first place. Any nominee with even minimal creds for high office knows instinctively that it’s a breach of confidentiality to share details of a private intel briefing. As David Priess, a CIA officer who gave daily briefings to members of the George W. Bush administration, said yesterday, “This is unprecedented. We’ve never had somebody talk about what happened in a session.”
What’s even worse is that Trump lied about what happened. According to the intel pros, there’s no way that Trump’s nonpartisan briefers suddenly morphed into partisan Trumpkins to trash the President of the United States. Intelligence officers who brief candidates are trained simply to impart information, not to make policy recommendations. Ex-CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar said yesterday, “One of the last things they would do is express (partisan or policy preferences) either verbally or through body language.”
Michael Hayden, who served Bush as director of the CIA and NSA, said it best yesterday: “I have never seen anything like this before. A political candidate has used professional intelligence officers, briefing him in a totally non-political setting, as props to buttress an argument for his political campaign. And his political point was actually imputed to them,” supposedly via their body language. “No such body language ever existed. It’s simply not what we do.”
Note Hayden’s key word: Trump “used” the intelligence officers. Of course he did. He uses everyone who crosses his path – the plumbers who pipe his hotel toilets, the briefers who talk about terrorism, doesn’t matter. They’re all deemed to be putty in his small hands.
Which brings us to our final critique, courtesy of Mike Lofgren, who served for many years as a Republican staffer and defense expert on Capitol Hill. After hearing what Trump said on Wednesday night, he wrote this:
“Employes of the intelligence community who give briefings to high-level officials do not, repeat, do not advocate for their pet policies….What (Trump has) managed to do is put those briefers in an extremely embarrassing situation. In a Trump presidency, we could expect a lot more of that – generals and civil servants being nonchalantly thrown under the bus as if they were contractors or tradesmen being stiffed on the bill for their services at Mar-a-Lago.”
Here’s the thing. If Trump wants to use and abuse the little girls who danced at his rallies (yes, they’re suing him because they haven’t been paid), and if he wants to use and abuse the campaign aides who worked in his D.C. policy shop (yes, they’re quitting en masse because they haven’t been paid), then we can at least breathe a sigh of relief that he’s not toying with national security. But using and abusing the intelligence community is not an advertisement for presidential fitness.
One of the longest-running stories in Republican politics has been the quest to find the next Ronald Reagan, so naturally it’s Mike Pence’s job to insist that Trump is Gipper II. In a speech yesterday at the Reagan library, Trump’s understudy said: “Like Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump has the honesty and the bluntness to confront the challenges facing the American people. And like Reagan, I believe Donald Trump has the toughness to rebuild our economy and command the respect of the world.”
I watched a Louis C. K. concert on Netflix the other night, and he was funny. But nothing he said tilted the laughmeter the way Pence did yesterday.
If it were indeed possible for the deceased to roll in his grave, one can only assume that Reagan is spinning like a top at the spectacle of a Republican nominee invoking his name – while simultaneously and repeatedly praising an ex-KGB agent who runs Russia by murdering and jailing the advocates of freedom. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that Reagan the hardliner would never have lavished the likes of Vladimir Putin with laudatory slobber.
Using and abusing the intelligence briefers was bad enough, but for Republicans, using and abusing Reagan surely must be worse. Indeed, the surviving Reagans flee from Trump as if he were a Zika mosquito. Here’s Michael Reagan, the family’s most prominent conservative: “My father would be appalled. I’m certainly appalled on behalf of my father and the Reagan family.”
The death this week of conservative activist/icon Phyllis Schlafly prompted me to recall something she wrote in 2013. She stressed how important it was for Republicans to require photo IDs and curb early voting – particularly in a pivotal state like North Carolina – because the goal, after all, was to ensure that fewer minority Democrats got the chance to vote.
Ooops, she wasn’t supposed to say that! She was supposed to talk about the crusade to stop the (non-existent) epidemic of “voter fraud,” but she went off message by committing candor. This was the candor:
“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important, because early voting plays a major role in (the Democratic) ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting . . .Early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”
Schlafly’s comments came to mind yesterday when I learned of the latest maneuvers by white Republicans in North Carolina. As I’ve recently written, the state’s racist vote-suppression law was thrown out by the federal courts this summer because, as the judges pointed out, it was crafted to curb black turnout “with almost surgical precision.” The judges said that “because of race, the (Republican) legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”
The “surgical precision” law slashed the early voting period from 17 days to 10. It just so happened that blacks in North Carolina have used early voting at a far higher rate than whites. When the judge junked the racist law, they reinstated the lost seven days. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, the judges allowed the local election boards to set the number of hours. And sure enough, the GOP-dominated election boards have seized the opportunity to slash the hours. The GOP -majority board in Mecklenburg County – the county that includes Charlotte; the county most crucial to Hillary Clinton’s prospects of winning the swing state – has eliminated 242 early-voting hours. Some boards have also cut the number of polling places, so that early voters have to drive farther to cast their ballots.
Phyllis Schlafly, in her ’03 article, never mentioned voter fraud – the ostensible reason for the law – because there’s no fraud to fight; as the federal courts wrote this summer, North Carolina’s Republicans “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” It’s enough to know that the white party’s ongoing war to curb early voting is being waged for the reasons that Schafly cited so candidly. Her spirit lives on.