In Senate testimony yesterday, FBI director Christopher Wray said that the agency had delivered the final results of its background check into now-disgraced aide Rob Porter back in January, months earlier than the White House, and especially Chief of Staff John Kelly, has claimed in the wake of Porter’s firing. Should Kelly’s mishandling of this episode cost him his job?
In a sane or even half-sane White House, Kelly would have been bounced long ago. Last fall, he smeared the Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson in retaliation for her complaint about Donald Trump’s disrespectful condolence call to the widow of a slain soldier. Kelly never apologized to Wilson for inventing a scurrilous tale about her but instead delivered this irrelevant and sanctimonious piety from a White House podium: “When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.” Now we have proof, if any was needed, that Kelly is a compulsive liar and a moral fraud. He not only condoned Rob Porter’s physical and emotional abuse of two ex-wives but covered it up, then defended Porter as the news broke, then tried to coerce other White House staff into backing up his bogus timeline of what he knew about Porter’s history and when he knew it.
Kelly has his own history of condoning sexual abuse in the military. We’ve also learned during his short White House tenure that he believes the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise” and that immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.” That this guy was widely welcomed six months ago by the Washington Establishment — including more than a few journalists — as an adult who might bring order to the White House is another measure of how successfully Trump has defined deviancy down in our political culture. The administration’s “adult” will now be remembered as a man who used his power to tar a black congresswoman and defend a wifebeater. He is making the brief interregnum of the Mooch look in retrospect like a golden age.
But Kelly also may be remembered for betraying the national security of the country he served as a general. There are dozens of officials serving on his and the president’s White House staff who have failed to receive more than an “interim” security clearance after a year in their jobs — an “unusual” phenomenon, FBI officials told The Wall Street Journal. Some of those officials, certainly including Porter and possibly including Jared Kushner, could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail even as they’ve been privy to some of the most sensitive secret intelligence routed to the Oval Office. While Trump has been trying to redefine “treason” as a failure to smile at his State of the Union address, activities closer to that crime’s actual definition may be playing out within shouting distance of his desk. Kelly’s removal, should it happen, won’t mitigate the ongoing breach of our nation’s security under this administration’s watch.
Intelligence officials this week concluded that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election “largely achieved its chief aim” of weakening faith in American democracy, and they foresee “bolder and more disruptive cyberoperations” this year. How will increased online interference change the shape of the midterms?
Well, I think we can safely say it’s not good news for the Democrats. But it’s even worse news for the country.
The most important moment at this week’s Senate hearings came when FBI director Wray conceded under questioning that the president had issued no orders to his agency to fight back against the Russian attack on the integrity of American elections. Quite the contrary. Trump has repeatedly denied that the Russians are up to anything, choosing to believe Vladimir Putin’s denials over the findings conveyed by his own appointees, whether Wray or the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.
And so: Even as the president repeatedly denies that there was any “collusion” between his campaign and the Russians in 2016, the collusion is continuing in 2018 right before our eyes. You’d have to be blind not to connect these dots. Or a bootlicker. Republicans on Capitol Hill pretend not to notice and do nothing to counter a threat to the very existential core of our democracy. Historians will look back at their willful ignorance just as they now do on their predecessors in Vichy France.
Mike Pence’s standoff with Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon has been a reminder of the vice-president’s poor pre–White House record on gay rights, especially his association with “conversion therapy,” as Pence took the lead of the U.S. Olympic delegation. How much does his history limit his future as a political figure?
Pence’s future as a political figure is going to be limited by a lot more than his homophobia, including, potentially, any findings by the Mueller investigation that don’t square with his public protestations of complete and utter innocence of the criminal activities of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser and Russian mole who has been telling all to investigators in exchange for his lenient plea deal.
But Pence’s attempt to make peace with Rippon, the first openly gay American Olympian, after Rippon ripped him for his support of “conversion therapy,” is telling. Pence has a long record of championing anti-gay policies: As a congressional candidate in Indiana, he declared that AIDS funding be paired with funding for “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” He also has rabidly opposed gays entering the military and same-sex marriage. When, as governor in 2015, he signed a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” designed to further anti-gay discrimination, the uproar was so loud among citizens and businesses in conservative Indiana that he had to retreat and endorse a new law that undid it. Pence’s popularity at home had plunged so low that he’d probably be working as a lobbyist for Tony Perkins’s Family Research Council or returning to his old job as a third-tier local radio talk-show host had Trump not rescued him from oblivion by putting him on the ticket. But once Pence was onboard, he was undeterred. It’s surely not coincidence that the 2016 GOP platform for the first time implicitly endorsed “conversion therapy” with a none-too-encoded clause gratuitously calling for the “right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.”
So why would Pence want to lie and claim that he was innocent of Rippon’s charge against him? Perhaps he was embarrassed to be shamed in the unforgiving spotlight of the Winter Olympics. It must be quite an insult to Pence’s fragile conception of his own manhood that he has been upstaged by both Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the murderous thug Kim Jong-un, and a widely admired gay American athlete in Seoul.