The Downfall of Kellyanne Conway

Erin Gloria Ryan, writing in The New York Times:

As Kellyanne Conway sleepwalks her way through a series of increasingly embarrassing interviews, it’s been hard not to feel sorry for her. It was difficult not to feel bad for her when “Saturday Night Live” depicted her as a craven hack driven to “Fatal Attraction”style debasement by a desire to appear on the news. When the cast of “Morning Joe” pointed out that Ms. Conway’s recent appearances on news shows proved her a useless source of information, when they sneered at Ms. Conway’s apparent White House ostracization, it was difficult to not feel stirrings of sympathy.

But I can’t feel sorry for Kellyanne Conway. Not anymore.

Not long ago, Ms. Conway felt like a vital part of a system that needed smart people on both sides to make it work. As a pollster who studied the electoral behavior of women, she served as a bridge between the right wing and a demographic that often seemed to perplex them.

The first time I saw Ms. Conway speak was at a New Yorker Festival panel in 2012. I was new to New York City. I was new to writing about politics. I was new to writing, period. On a panel about women voters, Ms. Conway spoke with a pragmatism that stood in opposition to contemporary TV personalities like Elisabeth Hasselbeck, whose brand of delicate pouting defined the conservative zeitgeist. Ms. Conway didn’t appeal to her audience’s sympathy. She had facts.

* * *

When Ms. Conway breached federal ethics laws by hawking Ivanka Trump’s “stuff” in the press briefing room, she got off with no immediate penalty besides being “counseled on the subject.” She told Fox News that the president supported her, that she was lucky to have a nice boss like Donald Trump and that every woman in America should hope to have a boss like him. She made it sound as though declining to punish a woman for ethics violations was somehow feminist, and as though all that matters to women is how their bosses treat them personally, not how their bosses impact the lives of other women.

If I wasn’t too exhausted to feel insulted, I’d have felt insulted.

More here.

Threee (count ’em) investigations on one afternoon

Via the Washington Post:

In the space of a little more than an hour on Tuesday afternoon, life was breathed into three separate and distinct potential investigations of the Trump administration.

First came the independent Office of Government Ethics’s recommendation that the White House should investigate Kellyanne Conway’s plug of Ivanka Trump’s fashion line and “consider taking disciplinary action.” The letter was first tweeted by the House Oversight Committee‘s Democrats at 2 p.m.

A half-hour later, the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), announced a letter probing Trump’s apparent discussion of sensitive information out in the open this weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

Finally, a little after 3 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was “highly likely” the Senate would deepen its Russia investigation after Michael Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser and questions emerged about whether his December discussion of sanctions with Russia’s ambassador broke the law.

More here.

Here we go….

Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down

Via The New York Times:

These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president’s dealings with an uncertain world.

Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.

The national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has hunkered down since investigators began looking into what, exactly, he told the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration, and whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. His survival in the job may hang in the balance.

Although Mr. Trump suggested to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday that he was unaware of the latest questions swirling around Mr. Flynn’s dealings with Russia, aides said over the weekend in Florida — where Mr. Flynn accompanied the president and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — that Mr. Trump was closely monitoring the reaction to Mr. Flynn’s conversations. There are transcripts of a conversation in at least one phone call, recorded by American intelligence agencies that wiretap foreign diplomats, which may determine Mr. Flynn’s future.

Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser, was circumspect on Sunday about Mr. Flynn’s future. Mr. Miller said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that possibly misleading the vice president on communications with Russia was “a sensitive matter.” Asked if Mr. Trump still had confidence in Mr. Flynn, Mr. Miller responded, “That’s a question for the president.”

This account of life inside the council — offices made up of several hundred career civil servants who advise the president on counterterrorism, foreign policy, nuclear deterrence and other issues of war and peace — is based on conversations with more than two dozen current and former council staff members and others throughout the government. All spoke on the condition that they not be quoted by name for fear of reprisals.

* * *

A number of staff members who did not want to work for Mr. Trump have returned to their regular agencies, leaving a larger-than-usual hole in the experienced bureaucracy. Many of those who remain, who see themselves as apolitical civil servants, have been disturbed by displays of overt partisanship. At an all-hands meeting about two weeks into the new administration, Ms. McFarland told the group it needed to “make America great again,” numerous staff members who were there said.

New Trump appointees are carrying coffee mugs with that Trump campaign slogan into meetings with foreign counterparts, one staff member said.

Nervous staff members recently met late at night at a bar a few blocks from the White House and talked about purging their social media accounts of any suggestion of anti-Trump sentiments.

Mr. Trump’s council staff draws heavily from the military — often people who had ties to Mr. Flynn when he served as a senior military intelligence officer and then as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before he was forced out of the job. Many of the first ideas that have been floated have involved military, rather than diplomatic, initiatives.

Much more here.

Trump’s two-year presidency

Kathleen Parker, writing in the Washington Post:

Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.

My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.

Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media — “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” — and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)

With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.

Aren’t we there, yet?

Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.

To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the Agriculture Department, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.

In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.

Much more here.

Kellyanne Conway Promotes Ivanka Trump Brand, Raising Ethics Concerns

Via The New York Times:

The White House on Thursday “counseled” Kellyanne Conway, one of President Trump’s top advisers, in an unusual show of displeasure after she urged consumers to buy fashion products marketed by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Legal experts said Ms. Conway might have violated a federal ethics rule against endorsing products or promoting an associate’s financial interests.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say,” Ms. Conway said in a Thursday morning interview with Fox News, speaking from the White House briefing room. “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody; you can find it online.”

Sean Spicer, the president’s press secretary, would not elaborate on what the counseling entailed.

Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Ms. Conway’s comments were “wrong, wrong, wrong, and there’s no excuse for it.” Mr. Chaffetz — who so far had not acted on calls since Election Day to investigate ethics issues related to Mr. Trump — and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, formally asked the Office of Government Ethics for an inquiry.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Public Citizen, nonprofit advocacy groups, sent their own requests to the ethics office to investigate whether Ms. Conway’s comments went over the line. The director of the office, Walter M. Shaub Jr., has said publicly that the president needs to do more to separate himself from his businesses.

Federal ethics rules state that an employee of the government’s executive branch cannot use public office for personal gain or to endorse products or services on behalf of friends or relatives. Legal experts said Ms. Conway, whose title is counselor to the president, appeared to have violated that and possibly other conflict-of-interest rules, which do not apply to the president and vice president, but do apply to their staffs.

The president and the Trump Organization continue to be targets of criticism — and formal requests for investigation by Democrats in Congress — over potential conflicts of interest because of their global business operations. A particular focus of Democratic lawmakers in Congress is Mr. Trump’s lease with the federal government on the Old Post Office building in Washington, redeveloped as the Trump International Hotel. The hotel and Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla., are among the Trump properties critics see as profiting from a surge in interest because of his presidency.

Much more here.

AP FACT CHECK: Conway Says She Misspoke on ‘Massacre’

Via The Associated Press:

A top aide to President Donald Trump said Friday she misspoke when she cited a 2011 “massacre” in Kentucky that never happened.

A day earlier, during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations by saying that former President Barack Obama instituted a similar policy for Iraqi refugees in 2011.

“President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre, Conway said. “Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”

It didn’t happen.

Conway tweeted Friday morning that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists” during the interview.

Her description of the 2011 Obama administration policy as a ban was also a mischaracterization, which she didn’t correct.

Obama never banned Iraqi refugees or other Iraqi travelers from coming to the United States. His administration did slow down the processing for Iraqis seeking Special Immigrant Visas, which are given to translators and interpreters who worked with the U.S. in that country.

The slowdown was prompted by the May 2011 arrest of two men in Kentucky charged with plotting to send weapons and money to al-Qaida operatives abroad. Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, were mistakenly admitted to the U.S. as Iraqi refugees in 2009 and resettled in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Alwan and Hammadi are in prison after pleading guilty. They were never accused of plotting to launch attacks inside the U.S.

According to State Department data, 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States during the 2011 budget year. The data also show that Iraqi refugees were admitted every month during the 2011 calendar year.

In addition, more than 7,800 Iraqis were allowed into the United States on nonimmigrant visas, including tourists, during the 2011 budget year, government data show.

A most dreadful inaugural address

George F. Will, writing in The Washington Post:

Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.

Oblivious to the moment and the setting, the always remarkable Trump proved that something dystopian can be strangely exhilarating: In what should have been a civic liturgy serving national unity and confidence, he vindicated his severest critics by serving up reheated campaign rhetoric about “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” and an education system producing students “deprived of all knowledge.” Yes, all.

But cheer up, because the carnage will vanish if we “follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.” “Simple” is the right word.

Because in 1981 the inauguration ceremony for a cheerful man from the American West was moved from the Capitol’s East Portico to its West Front, Trump stood facing west, down the Mall with its stately monuments celebrating some of those who made America great — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. Looking out toward where the fields of the republic roll on, Trump, a Gatsby-for-our-time, said: “What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Well.

“A dependence on the people,” James Madison wrote, “is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” He meant the checks and balances of our constitutional architecture. They are necessary because, as Madison anticipated and as the nation was reminded on Friday, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Trump reorganizes campaign team

Donald Trump seems to be going on all in on taking no prisoners and refusing to “pivot” to more effective campaigning.

Via Greg Sargent at the Washington Post:

Robert Costa has the grisly details on Trump’s shakeup. Trump has installed at the top one Stephen Bannon, who runs Breitbart News, while relegating Paul Manafort to a lesser role. Here’s Costa’s account of the internal thinking, based on conversations with Trump aides:

Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clearly than ever, that the real-estate magnate intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side….

While Trump respects Manafort, the aides said, he has grown to feel “boxed in” and “controlled” by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.

Trump’s turn away from Manafort is in part a reversion to how he ran his campaign in the primary with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski’s mantra was “let Trump be Trump” and Trump wants to get back to that type of campaign culture, the aides said.

Bannon, in phone calls and meetings, has been urging Trump for months to not mount a fall campaign that makes Republican donors and officials comfortable, the aides said. Instead, Bannon has been telling Trump to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.

This appears to confirm, as I have argued, that Trump remains trapped in the mental universe he inhabited during the primaries. That was a place where the size of his crowds at rallies actually did portend victories over less colorful and entertaining opponents who failed to create a mystique to rival his. It was a place where he really could win through sheer media dominance alone, because the bigotry, xenophobia, and all around depravity and wretchedness that drove that dominance — and with it, the name recognition that allowed him to blot out his rivals — did not alienate large numbers of Republican voters in the manner he is currently repulsing key general election constituencies. Trump now appears determined to prove that the same formula — which basically constitutes whipping up white backlash through rousing rallies and a continued emphasis on ethno-nationalism (leavened a bit by pretend minority outreach gestures) — can work in the general.

From my point of view, I think this is the beginning of a total Trump collapse, with the GOP “adult supervision” jettisoned immediately. Trump seems to be unable to avoid a campaign crash.