The Open Thread for February 20, 2017

According to The New York Times, associates of President Donald Trump have crafted a plan to lift sanctions that were placed on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.  Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, hand-delivered the “peace plan” to the White House, which was being pushed by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul D. Manafort. Trump business associate Felix H. Sater and Andrii V. Artemenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, were said to have helped craft the deal.   The plan involves overthrowing the anti-Russian President of the Ukraine.

Josh Marshall says a big shoe just dropped.  Hunter at Daily Kos puts it into needed context:

Cohen is under investigation by the FBI as part of the query into Russian influence in Trump’s election; Sater is Mafia-linked. A key part of the plan, led by pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker, Andrii Artemenko, would be releasing alleged evidence of corruption by the current not-pro-Russian-enough Ukrainian leader, thus allowing fine men like Andrii Artemenko to take over the government and negotiate a long term Russian “lease” of Crimea, and so forth. (Artemenko even offered up that he had “received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin”, which is apparently something would-be government topplers are willing to brag about these days.)

The end result: If the current Ukrainian government was disposed of and a more Russia-tolerant faction took its place, thus achieving a peace with Russia that may or may not absolve Russia of their military invasion and capture of Crimea, than the way would be clear for the Trump administration to lift the sanctions on Russia that resulted.

Which would, in turn, allow deals like now-Secretary-of-State Rex Tillerson’s $500 billion oil deal between ExxonMobil and Russia to go forward.

All it requires is a more complaint Ukrainian government, with the assistance of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Paul Manafort’s pals. This is an actual plan these people were willing to put down on paper.

Boston Globe: “Management experts from across the country view Trump’s tumultuous style in the White House as deeply troubling, unlikely to produce the type of helpful internal team debate that can solve difficult problems and well outside the norms of a coherent management philosophy.”

“In just one month, the Trump administration has seen a key Cabinet secretary sunk by bipartisan opposition, a national security adviser asked to resign after misleading the vice president and potentially lying to the FBI, and a refugee and immigration travel ban hastily written then halted by courts. Trump attempted to gain the upper hand with a rambling news conference in the East Room of the White House, where he made seemingly off-handed remarks about sinking a Russian warship and mused on the destructive power of a nuclear holocaust.”

“The president’s impulsiveness and reliance on his own gut reactions don’t appear to have any real check within the system he’s created.”

“The Trump administration has drafted preliminary economic growth forecasts in its federal budget planning that rely on assumptions that are far rosier than projections made by independent agencies and most private forecasters,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Stan Collender: “To say the least, this first set of economic assumptions and the resulting phony deficit will be fake news – lies, in other words – from Trump. Most other credible economists – including from Wall Street, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve – either will disagree with Trump outright or, to be diplomatic, will say that what the White House is assuming is in the extreme upper range of what’s acceptable.”

“But let’s be clear: Unless he issues an executive order repealing the laws of economics and budgeting or Congress rejects most of his tax and spending agenda, the federal deficit and debt will both be much higher than Trump will be forecasting.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is telling friends and staff he is taking a role with the Trump administration, the New York Post reports.  “The GOP governor’s position has not been worked out, but he would not replace ­Reince Preibus as the president’s chief-of-staff, the source said.”

“The Trump administration is considering changing the way it calculates U.S. trade deficits, a shift that would make the country’s trade gap appear larger than it had in past years,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The leading idea under consideration would exclude from U.S. exports any goods first imported into the country, such as cars, and then transferred to a third country like Canada or Mexico unchanged… A larger trade deficit would give the Trump administration ammunition in arguing that trade deals need to be renegotiated, and might help boost political support for imposing tariffs.”

Politico says Trump is nearly impossible to staff: “His whims, moods and insatiable appetite for TV can throw off plans. Priebus, along with others, often brief him extensively before meetings, telling him about the audience’s makeup and offering guidance for what he should say. Yet Trump has veered off on tangents, like repeating his unsubstantiated claim during meetings with senators that voter fraud was committed in the election. It has often fallen upon Priebus to change the subject—sometimes with success, sometimes not.”

“In order to be with Trump nearly all of the time, Priebus has largely handed off oversight of White House operations to deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, one of his top lieutenants.”

Democrats can draw some encouragement from Jennifer Steinhauer’s New York Times article, “G.O.P.’s Grand Visions for Congress Now Look Like a Mirage,” which reviews the toll taken by Democratic resistance to Trump’s agenda and growing disenchantment with it among Republicans. In stark contrast, notes Steinhauer, “At this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled Washington, Congress had passed a stimulus bill totaling nearly $1 trillion to address the financial crisis, approved a measure preventing pay discrimination, expanded a children’s health insurance program, and begun laying the groundwork for major health care and financial regulation bills.”

Jeet Heer at The New Republic writes—Donald Trump Is on the Ropes:

Waging a war on leaks makes a certain amount of strategic sense.  From Nixon to Obama, past presidents have found it politically expedient to crack down on leakers as a way of shoring up executive authority—while also, in the Obama administration’s case, selectively leaking information that reflects favorably on the president. It’s unlikely that Trump will show such finesse, or that he could even stop the leaks if he tried. Doing so requires a well-organized, generally loyal administration with a strong, clear chain of command—in other words, precisely the opposite of the Trump administration.

But Trump’s obsession with the leakers, and those who are eager to publish these leaks, is consistent with his longtime political strategy of demonizing the press and professional bureaucrats. The leaking issue allows him to pair these two alleged foes as a united enemy—a characterization his base will no doubt devour—and also allows him to have his cake and eat it, too: He can bemoan the “illegally given” information on the one hand, and then claim it’s all “fake news” anyway. Further, this obsession is also consistent with his propensity for conspiracy theories. The very anonymity of leakers makes it easy to portray them as shadowy conspirators plotting against him.

This isn’t just a matter of rhetoric, though. It’s also a reflection of Trump’s approach to governing. He’s being undermined by leakers because he doesn’t know how government works, is isolated and alienated from the professional bureaucracy, and has been slow in appointing his own people to key spots. The result is an utterly chaotic, confused administration—and where there’s chaos and confusion in government, there are usually leaks, too.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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