What Now?! – January 12, 2020

A senior administration official and a senior defense official told the Washington Post “they were only aware of vague intelligence about a plot against the embassy in Baghdad and that the information did not suggest a fully formed plot. Neither official said there were threats against multiple embassies.”

“The senior defense official did not directly contradict Trump but said there was concern that there might be an attempt to place a bomb at the Baghdad embassy, a heavily fortified structure in a secure area of the Iraqi capital. The senior administration official said that Trump has been fixated on not allowing an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility, out of fear of being compared unfavorably to his predecessor.”

Said one official: “Trump is totally obsessed with not letting something like Benghazi happen to him.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi asked the United States to send a delegation to Iraq to set up a mechanism for troop withdrawal from the country, the Washington Post reports.

“The Trump administration refused again Friday to recognize Iraq’s call to withdraw all U.S. troops, saying that any discussion with Baghdad would center on whatever force size the United States determines is sufficient to achieve its goals there,” the Washington Post reports.

Said the State Department: “At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how best to recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal.”

United States troops at the Al-Asad air base in Iraq were aware that an Iranian attack was imminent, allowing them to take shelter two-and-a-half-hours before missiles struck on Wednesday, CNN reports.

Politico: “Communications among Boeing employees involved with the 737 MAX, made public Thursday, have pushed the company’s reputation on Capitol Hill to a new low, sparking bipartisan anger and bringing Congress closer to reining in what some say has been lax federal oversight of plane manufacturers.”

“The emails and messages — which depict unnamed Boeing employees bragging about duping airlines, criticizing the MAX’s design as done by ‘clowns’ and raising concerns about cost-cutting and schedule pressures — immediately prompted sharp bipartisan rebukes.”

New York Times: “Boeing employees mocked federal rules, talked about deceiving regulators and joked about potential flaws in the 737 Max as it was being developed, according to over a hundred pages of internal messages delivered Thursday to congressional investigators.”

Said one of the employees: “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year.”

“The most damaging messages included conversations among Boeing pilots and other employees about software issues and other problems with flight simulators for the Max, a plane later involved in two accidents, in late 2018 and early 2019, that killed 346 people and threw the company into chaos. The employees appear to discuss instances in which the company concealed such problems from the F.A.A. during the regulator’s certification of the simulators, which were used in the development of the Max, as well as in training for pilots who had not previously flown a 737.”

Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. and China have agreed to semiannual talks to push for reform in both nations and resolve disputes, reviving a format from previous administrations that Trump trade officials had once derided.”

“Hours after a U.S. strike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Trump administration sent an urgent back channel message to Tehran: Don’t escalate,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The encrypted fax was sent via the Swiss Embassy in Iran, one of the few means of direct, confidential communication between the two sides.”

“In the days that followed, the White House and Iranian leaders exchanged further messages, which officials in both countries described as far more measured than the fiery rhetoric traded publicly by politicians.”

“The Trump administration and a coalition of conservative states that have been challenging the Affordable Care Act said Friday that there is no reason for the Supreme Court to rush a ruling on the issue this term,” the Washington Post reports.

“They said the court should not grant a motion by the House of Representatives and Democratic-led states to expedite review of a decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit last month. The panel struck down the law’s mandate that individuals buy health insurance but sent back to a lower court the question of whether the rest of the statute can stand without it.”

Inside the Hive: “Vanity Fair special correspondent Gabriel Sherman, who was attending the Golden Globes for his show, The Loudest Voice, relayed a story that sums up the Trump presidency and the mess we’re currently living in.”

“Standing near the bar, Sherman ran into Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, and the two started chatting. Sherman asked Luntz when he last saw the President. ‘Last week, at the White House Christmas party,’ Luntz said. Sherman asked what the two men talked about, to which Luntz replied that he had asked Trump what his middle initial ‘J’ stands for. ‘Genius,’ Trump responded.”

“Allies of President Trump are pursuing an effort to acquire right-leaning news channel One America News Network, in a bid to shake up a conservative media market that has been dominated by Fox News,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The investment firm Hicks Equity Partners is looking to acquire the channel and is pitching other wealthy GOP donors to arrange a bid of roughly $250 million for the channel’s parent company, the people said. The firm is owned by the family of Thomas Hicks Jr., co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and a close friend of Donald Trump Jr.”

“Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and staunch ally of President Trump, pushed other Republicans to vote in favor of limiting Trump’s authority in the military confrontation with Iran, drawing ire from the president and other Republicans in Congress,” the Washington Postreports.

“It was a risky move that surprised the president and showed rare fissures in a Republican Party that Trump has firmly controlled. Trump fiercely complained about Gaetz after aides informed Trump that his office had sent the email backing the resolution, which was pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Trump’s team lobbied heavily against the nonbinding resolution.”

George Conway and Neil Katyal: “The first article of impeachment effectively charges the president with shaking down Ukraine; the second impeaches him for his unprecedented obstruction of Congress. That gives the speaker room to maneuver. She could choose to tweak her announcement and send only the second article, on obstruction, for trial. Or she could transmit them both — along with a House-approved provision advising the Senate that if it fails to obtain adequate witnesses and documents, the House will reopen the investigation into Article I and subpoena that material itself…”

“Holding the first article back and letting the second go forward would be a powerful and precise response to McConnell’s unprecedented attempts to avoid committing to a real trial. It makes practical sense but also highlights what’s at stake here. Trump would be forced to undergo two impeachment trials instead of one — but that’s a fair price for him to pay for his attempts to hide evidence from the American people.”

David Frum: “The Trump administration and its supporters seem to have hoped for a “rally around the flag” effect from the killing of Soleimani. This did not happen. The fundamental geology of Donald Trump’s presidency remains unchanged: A large majority of Americans do not trust him, do not support him, and will not follow him…”

“Trump’s governance itself is legally in question right now. The president has been impeached. Unlike the Clinton impeachment of 1998–99, this process commands the approval of a majority of Americans. On average, more than 50 percent believe the Senate should remove Trump from office. That’s not sufficient to force the Senate to respond, especially not a Senate majority that itself was elected with the support of only a minority of Americans. But it’s certainly sufficient to deprive the president of the legitimacy to lead the nation to war.”

“The United States finds itself in the dangerous situation of having a president in power but without authority.”

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