Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Psychiatrists Are Now Allowed To Talk About Trump's Mental Illness

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In her "hot mic" moment with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) late yesterday afternoon, Maine Senate Republican Susan Collins admitted that Trump is "crazy" and that she's "worried." A prominent psychologist told me this morning that Trump has "many diagnoses, including low IQ with likely some dementia due to neurological involvement and language disorder thrown in. And narcissistic personality disorder, conduct disorder, etc., etc. Quite a conglomeration." Joe Scarborough, looking at Trump, had said it slightly differently on his MSNBC morning show a few hours earlier:
July the 25th... circle it on your calendar. This guy is spinning wildly out of control. He's watching TV. I know... I know you never watch this show, Donald, but whatever show you're watching, it's making you crazy... [I]t's making you act crazy. So you really need to turn to SportsCenter. And you need to stop watching, because these tweets make you look really bad.
No news there. But there is news about Trumpanzee's mental health problems. The executive committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association told its 3,500 members they should not feel bound by a longstanding rule against commenting publicly on the mental state of public figures-- particularly Señor Trumpanzee. They emphasized that psychiatrists need to use their expertise responsibly today "since Trump’s behavior is so different from anything we’ve seen before" in a commander in chief.




The statement, an email this month from the executive committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association to its 3,500 members, represents the first significant crack in the profession’s decades-old united front aimed at preventing experts from discussing the psychiatric aspects of politicians’ behavior. It will likely make many of its members feel more comfortable speaking openly about President Trump’s mental health.

The impetus for the email was “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior,” said psychoanalytic association past president Dr. Prudence Gourguechon, a psychiatrist in Chicago. “We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.”

...An increasing number of psychologists and psychiatrists have denounced the restriction as a “gag rule” and flouted it, with some arguing they have a “duty to warn” the public about what they see as Trump’s narcissism, impulsivity, poor attention span, paranoia, and other traits that, they believe, impair his ability to lead.

Reporters, pundits, and government officials “have been stumbling around trying to explain Trump’s unusual behavior,” from his seemingly compulsive tweeting to his grandiosity, said Dr. Leonard Glass, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. The rule against psychiatrists offering their analysis of the emotions, thought patterns, and beliefs underlying such behaviors, Glass said, robs the public “of our professional judgment and prevents us from communicating our understanding” of the president’s mental state.

Last week, in an essay in Psychiatric Times, Glass called the prohibition on such communication “an unacceptable infringement on my right and duty” to discuss issues “where the perspective of psychiatrists could be very relevant and enlightening.” He ended the essay by announcing his resignation from the American Psychiatric Association, which adopted the rule in 1973. He had been a member for 41 years.

Called the “Goldwater rule,” the prohibition on offering opinions about the mental state of public figures was adopted after some psychiatrists answered a 1964 survey on whether Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate that year, was mentally fit for the Oval Office. The rule states that it is unethical to offer a professional opinion about a public figure’s mental health, including the presence or absence of a disorder, without that person’s consent and without doing a standard examination. In March, the psychiatric association reaffirmed the rule.

The group acted despite growing criticism that the Goldwater rule is outdated and even unethical for preventing psychiatrists from pointing out behaviors that raise questions about a government official’s mental state. No other medical specialty has such a rule; cardiologists are not prohibited from offering their views of an official’s fainting spell, for instance, as long as they make clear that they have not examined the person.

Although opposition to the Goldwater rule has existed for years, it intensified with Trump’s candidacy and then election. In October, a book titled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President will be published.

“When the book comes out, there will be renewed furor about the Goldwater rule, since it is precisely about what is wrong with him,” said psychiatrist Dr. Lance Dodes, a retired professor at Harvard Medical School who is now in private practice in Los Angeles.

A number of psychologists have spoken to reporters about what Trump’s statements and actions might reveal about his emotional and cognitive state. Although the American Psychological Association “prefers” that its members not offer opinions on the psychology of someone they have not examined, it does not have a Goldwater rule and is not considering implementing one, an official told STAT.

The psychoanalytic association went further. In its July 6 email, it explicitly stated for the first time that the organization does not subscribe to the rule. That position had been implicit for years, but the association’s “leadership has been extremely reluctant to make a statement and publicly challenge the American Psychiatric Association,” said one psychoanalytic association member who asked not to be publicly identified criticizing the other group.



And by the way, Rand Paul's straight ACA repeal bill failed today 55-45, with 7 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with the Democrats. The Republicans who voted no were Lamar Alexander (TN), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Susan Collins (ME), Dean Heller (NV), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Rob Portman (OH).

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Is There Any More Wasserman Schultz Can Do To Destroy The Democratic Party? She's Working On It

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Yesterday I posed a question to people who follow me on Twitter, asking them to put themselves in the place of a congressional candidate who could pick between 4 surrogates to come in and endorse them. I asked them to pick between Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the handpicked post-Pelosi/Hoyer next leader Joe Crowley (Wall Street's #1 rep in the House) and a candidate who has never been elected to anything outside of his union, iron-worker Randy Bryce. Do the results surprise you?




Joe Crowley zero. I wish I had included Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I mean, is there any way of expressing less than zero? Yesterday was the anniversary of her being forced to resign as head of the DNC, too late for the party to save itself from the taint of her cheating in the presidential primaries. And she's still a member of Congress-- although perhaps not for long. And it goes beyond the vigorous primary campaign by progressive attorney Tim Canova-- whose campaign you can contribute to here. The FBI is now on to her.

Imran Awan has a top Wasserman Schultz IT aide since 2005. He still works for her in some capacity although she's being very squirrelly about what he does for her now that he's under criminal investigation. Several smashed hard drives, as well as some Wasserman Schultz-releated computer equipment, were seized by the FBI as part of an investigation that looks like it will further tarnish her already rot-gut reputation.
Awan and four other former congressional IT staffers are being investigated by U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI for “wide-ranging equipment and data theft.” Few details have been released since the investigation was first reported in February 2017, but many have speculated that Wasserman Schultz is involved due to a tense exchange between her and the U.S. Capitol police chief over a laptop from her office being held as evidence. Last week, Wasserman Schultz finally cooperated with authorities to grant them access to a laptop, though it’s uncertain if the laptop in question is the same laptop Wasserman Schultz argued with the U.S. Capitol police chief over. Awan clearly went to great lengths to cover his tracks, but it’s unclear what his motives were.

After resigning in disgrace from the DNC, the investigation into Wasserman Schultz’s former IT aide has further tarnished her reputation. Despite her efforts to revive her image by focusing on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the former DNC chair is still seen as a corrupt, out of touch politician who represents the worst of the Democratic Party. Her continued presence in Democratic leadership impedes the party’s reform and ensures that voters’ lack of trust for Democrats-- which stemmed from her leadership at the DNC-- remains.
Imran and his two brothers, Abid and Jamal and their wives, are being investigated for a number of crimes, from overcharging taxpayers for congressional IT equipment to blackmailing members of Congress with secrets captured from emails. The Awans have been paid something like $5 million by Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats who used their services at tax payer expense.

So far there's a lot of smoke-- much of it being generated by partisan Republican trolls-- and no actual proof of any crimes tied Wasserman Schultz. But knowing what a slimy character she's always been, I'm in wait-and-see mode of this one. As for the party brand she tarnished so badly... it's going total a lot of effort to fix that-- beyond the Papa John's Pizza slogan. Oh, and last night Politico reported that Awan was arrested on bank fraud as he was trying to leave the country for his native Pakistan. So... the narrative moves along. (Wassermann Schultz claims she finally fired him on Tuesday... before he was arrested.)

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Maine Republican On The Health Care Hot Seat: Bruce Poliquin

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Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) is the only Republican representing a House district in New England. He's a rich guy who began his political campaign by self-fundng a race for governor-- and not just losing to crackpot Paul LePage but coming in 6th out of 7 Republicans in the primary! LePage gave him the job as state treasurer. In 2012 he lost another GOP primary, this one for the U.S. Senate seat given up by Olympia Snowe. in 2014 he finally found an election he could win-- the conservative Maine congressional seat (ME-02) which was being vacated by Blue Dog Mike Michaud. The DCCC nominated a pointless centrist EMILY's List nothing (Emily Cain), allowing the district to flip blue to red-- 133,320 (45.2%) to 118,568 (40.2%). Last year the DCCC came up with one of their typically brilliant strategies for winning back the seat, running the same nothing candidate, Emily Cain, again. She then lost 192,878 (54.8%) to 159,081 (45.2%).

The district includes all of Maine north of Portland and Augusta-- all of Androscoggin, Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties and part of Kennebec. Trump lost Maine but won ME-02 by over 10 points-- 41.4% to 41.1%. Hillary was the wrong candidate for the district. In fact, she lost every single county in the district to Bernie in the caucuses-- some with less than 30% of the vote. Poliquin voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with TrumpCare, making him extremely vulnerable to defeat next year. Luckily, the DCCC hasn't recruited Cain again for 2018-- at least not yet-- and they seem OK with an excellent progressive who seems about to jump into the race, the Assistant Majority Leader of Maine's House of Representatives, Jared Golden. An ex-Marine who saw active duty in Afghanistan, Golden seems like just the kind of candidate who can defeat Poliquin. His record is pro-Choice, pro-LGTQ equality, pro-Labor and pro-environment. He's the one who wrote Maine's automatic voter registration bill we wrote about in May. His legislative record-- not just votes but leadership-- indicate he'd be an excellent new member of Congress, something the Democrats need badly. When I asked her about him, Shenna Bellows, a big fan, suggested I read this OpEd he wrote for the Bangor Daily News: Asylum-seekers are part of Maine’s turnaround, not political pawns. So... good on the courageousness metric as well. A well-connected friend of mine in Lewiston told me that "As whip in the Democratic-led House, he consistently worked behind the scenes for a more progressive approach on the tough budget issues and some of the other bills we dealt with this year. A progressive marine who has the courage of his convictions is exactly the type of representative we need in these perilous times. Jared was tireless about advocating for a more progressive approach."

Yesterday, just as the Senate was getting ready to vote on proceeding with TrumpCare, Poliquin-- who, remember, voted for the Freedom Caucus version of TrumpCare that would kick 23 million Americans off health insurance-- issued a statement to his constituents opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, which tries threading a difficult needle for Republican incumbents, opposing Obamacare without embracing the consequences of repealing it. His political career will depend on whether or not he can persuade Maine voters he's making any sense.
“In light of what we have seen over the last several months, once again, I cannot support the repeal of the ACA without a viable replacement. Changes in insurance markets are complex. Many fellow Mainers are impacted either as policy holders or due to the ACA regulations on their private individual or employer coverage. We shouldn't forget that thousands of Maine families were forced into Obamacare either because of the threat of an IRS penalty, or because their own policies were cancelled under Obamacare's red tape regulations. We simply cannot tell these people they will now have no access to insurance because of inaction by the U.S. Senate.

“Let’s be clear, Obamacare is not working despite what some proponents of the status quo would have us believe. During six years of growing problems, the ACA has cost taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. Its roll-out nearly failed under collapsing taxpayer-funded insurance exchanges. Thousands of Maine families lost their choice of doctors and health plans even though career politicians promised they could keep them. Monthly premiums and annual deductibles under Obamacare have been increasing by double digits year-after-year-after-year. Some ignore or forget these straightforward facts, but the rollout and implementation of Obamacare has not performed as sold.

“Part of the ACA law has been the rapid expansion of the medical welfare program, called Medicaid, or MaineCare in our State, to able-bodies adults with no dependents. We need to be honest about how Medicaid is an open-ended program with no budget which continues to grow beyond the taxpayers' ability to pay for the health care benefits. It's simply not sustainable.

"Medicaid started as a welfare program designed to provide health care to those truly in need—such as children, the disabled, and the elderly who can’t afford to contribute to Medicare. Hard-working Mainers and retirees understand that limited Medicaid, or MaineCare, dollars should be reserved for those who are the most at risk rather than for those who are not disabled, have no dependents, and can purchase their own health insurance. Congress should be working to lower the cost of private insurance so that people can afford it instead of asking the government, our taxpayers, to subsidize more and more medical welfare.

"Medicaid, or MaineCare, should be put on a financially sustainable path so it can continue to provide for those who need it most for generations to come. Continuing to add childless able-bodied adults on welfare only helps trap them in government dependency and poverty while further straining state and federal budgets. Welfare funding is not free. Welfare dollars are paid by hard-working American taxpayers. Not long ago, Maine taxpayers were forced to pay-off a massive $750 million welfare debt to Maine hospitals because of an earlier MaineCare expansion to able-bodied adults with no kids. For years, this accumulating mountain of debt crowded out state government's ability to adequately fund road and bridge repairs, border protection, public safety, and the fight against our devastating opioid and heroin epidemic.

“We also need to be honest about the robust list of essential health care benefits already, and still, required to be included in any insurance policy sold in Maine, no matter what Congress does or does not do. For many years, Maine has required this strong coverage—well before Obamacare became law. Any replacement of the ACA will not change the fact that Maine still will require these same health insurance protections.

“Job-killing taxes and layers of regulations should not be the standard by which health insurance is measured. Government needs to support a sustainable free market system which lowers the cost of health insurance by providing incentives for providers to compete for our business. This will result in more plan choices and lower costs.

"Moving to a complete government takeover of our health care system is a bad idea. The enormous "single-payer" socialist bureaucracy would further drive up costs and ration health care services. The United States leads the world in health care innovation. Stifling that free market success would result in worse health care for all. Health care is more complex now than ever before. Adding additional layers of government bureaucracy and red tape would only make matters worse.

“Maine and America needs to ensure there's a responsible, sustainable health insurance plan in place before Obamacare is repealed. That common sense approach is only fair to our families struggling to afford coverage whether it be an Obamacare policy or not.

“We need to ensure we have a plan in place, a glide path, to a new fiscally responsible and sustainable solution. Repeal without replace does not accomplish that mission.”

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Can You Really Work Up Any Juices To Protest The Firing Of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions?

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Mike Allen: "Sessions allies tell us he won’t quit, and will have to be fired: This is his life’s work and dream job. (Yesterday, he took on sanctuary cities.) And in Trumptown, you can be down now, but back in favor after you endure a little humiliation. Ask Steve Bannon."

Odd how right-wing Trumpbots are cheering their president on to fire Jeff Sessions, an icon of racism, xenophobia and... well... everything that is at the rotten core of Trumpism. At least just as odd: liberals are bemoaning the fact that Trump is moving towards firing Sessions, despite the fact that there isn't a liberal in America who believes Sessions is fit for the office. Trump has literally turned the world topsy-turvy. One thing that never does change though-- at least not so far-- is the Uriah Heap Speaker of the House's attitude. The Wisconsin enabler gave Trump the green light to go ahead and fire Sessions, even while other Republicans were trying to discourage him. Maybe Trump yelled at him for defending Bob Mueller in a radio interview on Monday, when he told listeners, “Remember, Bob Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican who served in a Republican administration and stayed on until his term ended. But I don’t think many people are saying Bob Mueller is a person who is a biased partisan. He’s really sort of anything but."

Ryan's such a slimy, confused guy with such an incoherent tattered brand these days. In some ways he must be looking foward to Randy Bryce putting him out of his misery in 2018.


Despite Ryan's jelly-fish posture, some establishment Republicans seethed and some even went public with their concerns about Trump's scheme to replace Sessions and hire someone to fire Mueller and end the Putin-Gate investigation. Mike Simpson (R-ID): "All hell would break loose."
"If he fired Mueller, that would be a problem. It wouldn't pass the smell test," added a second House Republican, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. "The American people would demand we do something."

...Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., who is chasing Trump's endorsement in the competitive Aug. 15, special Senate election primary, was compelled to take a veiled shot at the president for the humiliating way he has publicly pondered whether to fire Sessions.

"Jeff Sessions is my mentor, a great friend, and a man of the utmost integrity. His example of leadership inspired me to run for public office in Alabama, and continues to merit the admiration of his team at DOJ, his former colleagues in the Senate, and our great state," Strange, who was appointed to fill Sessions' seat on a temporary basis, said in a statement.

"Jeff and President Trump are trying to make America great again," he continued. "And it's a privilege to work along side both to accomplish the Trump agenda for the American people, and we need to stop letting the media distract us from that agenda."

...It's obvious Republicans have no appetite to rebuke the president, fearing a revolt of their own voters at home-- many who side with Trump on the Russia matter-- and anxious for the turbulence it would cause between now and midterm elections 15 months away. But they conceded in interviews that Mueller's dismissal would necessitate action of some sort, although they were unclear on what form it might take.

It could range from stronger verbal denunciations to more aggressive oversight hearings to passage of laws, like a bill that passed Tuesday, that limit Trump's ability to maneuver without congressional approval.

Impeachment proceedings are off the table unless the president commits a crime, GOP insiders said.

"There would have to be a smoking gun," a former Republican congressional aide said. "If he fires Mueller it would be a big deal and there would oversight hearings but it would be similar to Comey. I don't think it would near impeachment. I think there would have to be proof of collusion or breaking the law."

For conservatives, Sessions is an ideological touchstone in an unpredictable administration. He's an immigration hawk who adopted this position long before they were ascendant in the Republican Party, and he's viewed as insurance against Trump drifting left on border security and illegal immigration.

His circle of friends in Congress reaches beyond these circles, however. Many Republicans disagree with his positions on immigration and trade, but always appreciated his professionalism and honesty. In a chaotic White House, Sessions is a dependable ally.

Trump firing the attorney general could cause a breakdown in relations that area already rocky and highly transactional, Republican senators and congressional aides across Capitol Hill told the Washington Examiner in private conversations.

"Jeff's a good friend of mine. He stuck his neck out early for the president, which I have a lot of respect for, and I think that will pay off for him in the long run," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., added.
In his NY Times column this morning, A Trump Tower of Absolute Folly, conservative pundit Ross Douthat asserted that "Trump’s campaign against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in which he is seemingly attempting to insult and humiliate and tweet-shame Sessions into resignation, is an insanely stupid exercise. It is a multitiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly that leaves many of the president’s prior efforts in its shade... Trump’s war on Sessions is one of the few things short of a recession that could hurt him with his base-- which he needs to hold, since he isn’t doing anything to persuade anyone outside it... This president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better."

Meanwhile a coalition of good government groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, Common Cause, Protect Democracy and Public Citizen sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer and the chair and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, urging them to delay confirming Christopher Wray as FBI director until Señor Trumpanzee publicly pledges not to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, which is at the heart of his reasons for moving against Sessions.

Nancy Ohanian's Bob Mueller

Dear Senators,

We write to request that the Senate postpone the confirmation of a new Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) until the White House takes concrete steps to insulate the Director and the law enforcement agency he will lead from improper political interference. Recent statements by President Trump indicate that he believes the FBI Director should be politically loyal to him, instead of serving the country and the rule of law. The President’s recent statements further indicate that he is aggressively seeking to undermine, if not eliminate, a specific Department of Justice law enforcement matter-- the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in our elections. The President’s comments demeaning the Attorney General over his recusal in this matter, as well as his extraordinary reference to him as “beleaguered,” raise deep concerns that the President may be considering a series of personnel changes seeking to terminate the investigation. Under these circumstances, confirming the President’s hand-picked FBI Director-- regardless of that nominee’s individual merits-- would plunge a new Director into an unfair and untenable position, where the stated expectations of the President directly conflict with the Director’s independent law enforcement responsibilities. As such, the Senate should not proceed to confirm a new Director until the President has made specific commitments-- set forth below-- to respect the independence of the Department of Justice, including the FBI Director and the Special Counsel.

The Director of the FBI is an independent position, by its nature as a federal law enforcement leader, its statutory ten year term, and its protection from White House interference under historic policies governing White House communications with law enforcement on specific matters. For over forty years, to prevent even the appearance of political meddling in federal law enforcement, White House policies of Republican and Democratic administrations alike have either forbid, or, vastly minimized any White House contacts with federal law enforcement functions involving specific investigations or prosecutions. These policies, including the current White House policy, designate less than a handful of individuals at the Department of Justice-- excluding the FBI-- which may properly have contact with the White House about any specific investigation or enforcement matter.

Likewise, the decades-long policy of the Department of Justice (DOJ), including the currently operative version, also protects the integrity of particular investigation and enforcement matters by prohibiting communications with the White House about them, other than those involving the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. Strict enforcement of these policies restricting White House interference with specific law enforcement matters is especially crucial where the investigation at hand may relate to the President, his family, his campaign, and his closest political advisors.

Currently, the White House has a contacts policy, but as it applies only to DOJ, it is vastly inadequate compared to policies of prior administrations, which applied across the federal government to address other law enforcement functions, as well as specific party matters in procurement, grant-making, and regulatory decisions, among others. Recently, internal White House documents, released through FOIA, disclosed that the White House Counsel’s office plans to issue a more complete and robust White House agency contacts policy, which would be in line with the precedent of prior Administrations, and in keeping with the White House’s commitment months ago. This is a critical moment for the White House to publicly commit to avoiding political interference with law enforcement and other independent government functions. The White House should, as it has promised, issue a thorough and comprehensive policy limiting inappropriate White House contacts about specific matters with officials across the Federal agencies.

Unfortunately, recent comments from the President and the White House, consistent with the White House’s prior actions, suggest that the President does seek the ability to interfere with and impede specific investigations. In particular, the President seems intent on thwarting the special counsel’s investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. The statements from the White House spokesperson on limiting the scope of the special counsel investigation, as well as news reports of the President’s staff working to investigate the Special Counsel staff in order to discredit them, and by extension, the investigation,6 plainly pose improper White House threats against independent law enforcement functions. In addition, just a few days ago, the President stated in an interview with the New York Times that the “F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director.” Even after the outcry following testimony of the President’s demand for “loyalty” from prior FBI Director James Comey, it appears the President still expects political or personal loyalty to him from the next FBI Director. It also suggests that the President does not respect or abide by the contacts policy of his own White House, or of the Department of Justice.

Before moving to confirm a new Trump-selected FBI Director, the Senate should be assured that President Trump and his White House will respect the independence of the FBI’s law enforcement function from White House interference. In particular, the Senate should ensure the following conditions are met:
1) The White House publicly issues a complete and robust agency contacts policy, as it has said it will.
2)  President Trump commits that he and his White House will abide by the White House’s agency contacts policy.
3)  Consistent with the agency contacts policy and importance of protecting specific law enforcement matters from agency interference, the President commits not to fire or otherwise interfere with Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.

To approve the nomination of any FBI Director without clarification from the President himself that he will not interfere with ongoing law enforcement matters, would be to thrust that nominee into an impossible position, undermining the head of the FBI before he steps in the door. As the nominee, Christopher Wray, has testified, receiving reassurance from the Department of Justice senior leadership that Special Counsel Mueller is continuing his investigation made Wray “comfortable that I would be able to do my job...” To confirm a Director, with widespread criminal and national security responsibilities, under such a cloud could have lasting harmful consequences for the FBI, the Justice Department, and the nation.

Through the confirmation process, Congress serves its role as a check on the executive pursuant to the constitution. Nothing is more important in upholding our constitutional system and rule of law than the President not be allowed to place himself above the law. In fulfilling Congress’s constitutional role, the Senate should demand these assurances before confirming a new FBI Director.


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McCain Wants To Be A Hero Again-- But Not THAT Much

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By now you know McConnell's Motion to Proceed into the murky depths of healthcare legislation-- virtually none of the senators voting yesterday knew exactly what bill would be proceeded to-- passed when Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie. McConnell dragged McCain out of his hospital bed in Phoenix because he knew only Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) planned to stick to their guns about not wrecking healthcare for tens of millions of Americans. Remember when Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) boasted she wouldn't flinch from being the deciding vote to kill the bill. She wasn't lying whence said. McConnell bribed her after she said it. And remember all that drama from lying sacks of shit like Dean Heller (R-NV), who succumbed to Trump's threats and bluster, Rob Portman (R-OH), Rand Paul (R-KY) and the rest of the phonies.

But the weirdest situation was McCain. All he had to do was stay in his hospital room. Instead he chose to take health insurance away from 23-- or 32-- million Americans... and wreck the V.A. And then he read a long, self-aggrandizing speech one of his p.r. aides wrote that is classic McCain-- desperate not to look like the rubber-stamp zombie he's been for his whole political career.
“Mr. President:

“I’ve stood in this place many times and addressed as president many presiding officers. I have been so addressed when I have sat in that chair, as close as I will ever be to a presidency.

“It is an honorific we’re almost indifferent to, isn’t it. In truth, presiding over the Senate can be a nuisance, a bit of a ceremonial bore, and it is usually relegated to the more junior members of the majority.

“But as I stand here today-- looking a little worse for wear I’m sure-- I have a refreshed appreciation for the protocols and customs of this body, and for the other ninety-nine privileged souls who have been elected to this Senate.

“I have been a member of the United States Senate for thirty years. I had another long, if not as long, career before I arrived here, another profession that was profoundly rewarding, and in which I had experiences and friendships that I revere. But make no mistake, my service here is the most important job I have had in my life. And I am so grateful to the people of Arizona for the privilege-- for the honor-- of serving here and the opportunities it gives me to play a small role in the history of the country I love.


“I’ve known and admired men and women in the Senate who played much more than a small role in our history, true statesmen, giants of American politics. They came from both parties, and from various backgrounds. Their ambitions were frequently in conflict. They held different views on the issues of the day. And they often had very serious disagreements about how best to serve the national interest.

“But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.

“That principled mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it, come to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today.

“I’m sure it wasn’t always deserved in previous eras either. But I’m sure there have been times when it was, and I was privileged to witness some of those occasions.

“Our deliberations today-- not just our debates, but the exercise of all our responsibilities-- authorizing government policies, appropriating the funds to implement them, exercising our advice and consent role-- are often lively and interesting. They can be sincere and principled. But they are more partisan, more tribal more of the time than any other time I remember. Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we’d all agree they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately. And right now they aren’t producing much for the American people.

“Both sides have let this happen. Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline-- either by deliberate actions or neglect. We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly I have. Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes, I made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said to a colleague. Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy.

“Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph. But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours.

“Considering the injustice and cruelties inflicted by autocratic governments, and how corruptible human nature can be, the problem solving our system does make possible, the fitful progress it produces, and the liberty and justice it preserves, is a magnificent achievement.

“Our system doesn’t depend on our nobility. It accounts for our imperfections, and gives an order to our individual strivings that has helped make ours the most powerful and prosperous society on earth. It is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning.’ Even when we must give a little to get a little. Even when our efforts manage just three yards and a cloud of dust, while critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to ‘triumph.’

 “I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.

“Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.

“We’re getting nothing done. All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it.


“I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered. I will not vote for the bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that. I have changes urged by my state’s governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill. I know many of you will have to see the bill changed substantially for you to support it.

“We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.

“The Obama administration and congressional Democrats shouldn’t have forced through Congress without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare. And we shouldn’t do the same with ours.

“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act. If this process ends in failure, which seem likely, then let’s return to regular order.

“Let the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee under Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray hold hearings, try to report a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides. Then bring it to the floor for amendment and debate, and see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises, and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side, but that might provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with today.

“What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting much done apart. I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.

“The Senate is capable of that. We know that. We’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it happen many times. And the times when I was involved even in a modest way with working out a bipartisan response to a national problem or threat are the proudest moments of my career, and by far the most satisfying.

“This place is important. The work we do is important. Our strange rules and seemingly eccentric practices that slow our proceedings and insist on our cooperation are important. Our founders envisioned the Senate as the more deliberative, careful body that operates at a greater distance than the other body from the public passions of the hour.

“We are an important check on the powers of the Executive. Our consent is necessary for the President to appoint jurists and powerful government officials and in many respects to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!

“As his responsibilities are onerous, many and powerful, so are ours. And we play a vital role in shaping and directing the judiciary, the military, and the cabinet, in planning and supporting foreign and domestic policies. Our success in meeting all these awesome constitutional obligations depends on cooperation among ourselves.

“The success of the Senate is important to the continued success of America. This country-- this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country-- needs us to help it thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interests or political affiliations.

“We are the servants of a great nation, ‘a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ More people have lived free and prosperous lives here than in any other nation. We have acquired unprecedented wealth and power because of our governing principles, and because our government defended those principles.

“America has made a greater contribution than any other nation to an international order that has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have been the greatest example, the greatest supporter and the greatest defender of that order. We aren’t afraid. “We don’t covet other people’s land and wealth. We don’t hide behind walls. We breach them. We are a blessing to humanity.

“What greater cause could we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice? That is the cause that binds us and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us.

“What a great honor and extraordinary opportunity it is to serve in this body.

“It’s a privilege to serve with all of you. I mean it. Many of you have reached out in the last few days with your concern and your prayers, and it means a lot to me. It really does. I’ve had so many people say such nice things about me recently that I think some of you must have me confused with someone else. I appreciate it though, every word, even if much of it isn’t deserved.

“I’ll be here for a few days, I hope managing the floor debate on the defense authorization bill, which, I’m proud to say is again a product of bipartisan cooperation and trust among the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“After that, I’m going home for a while to treat my illness. I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me. And, I hope, to impress on you again that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company.

“Thank you, fellow senators."

It may be his last Senate speech ever. Maybe not. But you think there's any chance at all he'll make as brave a move as Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski did yesterday? I don't. It's not in him-- even at this late stage. He probably feels his legacy has withstood a full frontal attack from Trump and it'll withstand his ugly, cowardly vote yesterday as well. Because, despite the hopeful throwaway line someone wrote and he read-- "I will not vote for the bill as it is today"-- just a couple of hours after saying it, he did just that: voted for TrumpCare with no changes, same as Shelley Moore "I didn't comes to Washington to makes peoples' lives worse" Capito did. Apparently she reconsidered and realized she did come to Washington to make 32 million Americans lives worse. The Republicans who voted with the Democrats against the first repeal and replace TrumpCare bill last night were Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Tom Cotton (AR), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dean Heller (NV), Mike Lee (UT), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Rand Paul (KY). It needed 60 votes and it only got 43.

Just after the Senate vote, Congressmembers Keith Ellison, Raul Grijalva, Pramila Jayapal, Our Revolution leader Nina Turner and other progressive leaders introduced the People’s Platform-- a progressive agenda to move the country forward. This is what Schumer and Pelosi should have announced this week instead of recycling the Papa John's Pizza slogan. Pramila: "If Democrats want to win in 2018 and take our country back, we can’t just be an opposition party: we must be a proposition party." The People’s Platform includes legislation that addresses the real issues Americans face every day, including universal health care for ALL Americans. More from Pramila:
"I’m proud to be a progressive, and I wear that label with pride. [The ideas in the People’s Platform] are ideas that serve working people across America. These ideas have been tested in every other developed country, and they work-- so why not here in America?

The People’s Platform recognizes that economic, racial and gender justice are deeply intertwined, and will empower working people across our country to stand up to the wealthiest corporations and top 1% and invest instead in working families across our country.

In addition to universal health care, the People’s Platform calls for free college education, automatic voter registration, taxes on Wall Street, raising the federal minimum wage to $15, protecting women’s reproductive rights and ending private prisons.

Together, we need to build an America that will provide every person-- regardless of their age, race, gender or economic status-- access to health care, free college tuition, a livable planet, and a job that pays a living wage.

Pramila has always believed that there is no problem in our country that we can’t solve or challenges that we can’t overcome-- if we do it together.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Who Thinks Subsidizing Rich Sports Team Owners Is A Good Use Of Public Funds?

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I was elected freshman class president at college and the first vote I remember taking on the student council was to oppose spending student funds on moleskin-- a cotton fabric some sports team wanted because it's resistant to wind and abrasion. Let them get their own moleskins; I had Fugs, Doors, Country Joe & the Fish, Who and Otis Redding concerts in mind, not to mention lectures by Timothy Leary and Julian Bond. Conservatives on the council didn't agree with me-- not on that vote, nor on any others... not ever. But I find myself on the same team with conservatives today when it comes to sports stadium funding. I haven't changed my ideas about public money going into sports. But wasn't I surprised to see this OpEd the other day by the New Jersey and Oklahoma state directors of the Koch Brothers' Americans For Prosperity opposing public funds for sports stadiums! It's also a story about two senators, Cory Booker (D-NJ) and James Lankford (R-OK), both reliably pro-corporate... until this issue came up. The idea is that "Maybe bringing together two senators from vastly different states and from widely different ideologies-- U.S. Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat-- will help inspire a fractious Congress to work together on a bipartisan bill to cut federal subsidies for sports stadiums."
The bill would end the federal tax giveaway for municipal bonds used to fund sports stadiums. It's a practice that has been going on for decades because shrewd team owners know that local politicians are under extreme political pressure from fans to make sure their beloved local teams don't move to greener pastures unless they get a handout.

Even if we ignore for a moment that such picking of winners and losers is a flagrant foul by the government, it's also a questionable use of federal tax dollars. "The federal government is responsible for a lot of important functions, but financing sports stadiums for multi-million dollar franchises is definitely not one of them," Sen. Lankford said in a statement.

Exempting the interest on municipal bonds from federal income taxes is a legitimate tool to lower the borrowing costs for cities to pay for public projects that serve to carry out core functions of government such as roads, sewer systems, and schools. Subsidizing ballparks for billionaire owners and millionaire players, however, shouldn't be part of the equation.

The carve-out hasn't been cheap. According to the Brookings Institution, the stadium loophole has cost federal taxpayers $3.2 billion for 36 professional sports facilities since 2000.

With the federal government $20 trillion in debt, excising this kind of pointless waste would seem to be the legislative equivalent of a slam dunk. But as with so much else in the federal tax code, it pays to be well-connected.

In 1986, when major tax reform was last enacted, there was a push to do away with federal welfare for stadiums. "We thought we shut down public financing to private sports stadiums in 1986," then-Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat told the New York Times a decade later, in reference to a similar measure introduced at that time.

But the subsidy lives on, like the hope that springs eternal in the fans of a team that gets to the championship game, only to see its dreams dashed yet again. (Sorry, Cleveland.)

So, here we are again, decades and billions of dollars later, and Congress is still trying to figure out a way to end this expensive handout.

It's a matter of simple fairness, according to Sen. Booker, whose home state lost the NBA's Nets to Brooklyn, where a new stadium was built with $161 million in federal subsidies. "It's not fair to finance these expensive projects on the backs of taxpayers, especially when wealthy teams end up reaping most of the benefits." The senator is right. Taxpayer subsidies mean that there are fewer state dollars to go around to address areas of true government need.

Congress should act to remove this misguided incentivizing of federal subsidies for stadium financing. If Washington gets out of the ballpark business, taxpayers will be the big winners.
These are the 10 current members of the Senate who have taken the biggest bribes from professional sports teams since 1990:
John McCain (R-AZ)- $583,380
Rob Portman (R-OH)- $225,083
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)- $219,100
Bitch McConnell (R-KY)- $174,200
Bill Nelson (D-FL)- $167,700
Marco Rubio (R-FL)- $135,865
Todd Young (R-IN)- $128,900
John Cornyn (R-TX)- $128,000
Mike Lee (R-UT)- $109,900
Richard Burr (R-NC)- $109,500
And here are the 10 current members of the House who have taken the biggest bribes from professional sports teams since 1990:
Charlie Crist (Blue Dog-FL)- $143,350
Tom Rooney (R-FL)- $107,985
Ron DeSantis (R-FL)- $104,502
Steve Chabot (R-OH)- $101,450
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $88,214
Richard Hudson (R-NC)- $85,800
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (New Dem-FL)- $74,625
Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- $71,250
Fred Upton (R-MI)- $69,700
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $68,900
Mostly corrupt Republicans with a sprinkling of 2 of the very worst of the corrupt conservative House Democrats, Hoyer and Wasserman Schultz. What else is new?



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Who Does Ezra Cohen-Watnick Work For In His National Security Council Position?

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The only known photo of Cohen-Watkick outside of Moscow

Way back in April, we warned DWT about a low-profile Trumpist connected to the Kremlin, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, likely to cause problems for Americans in the future. Kremlin spy Michael Flynn brought him into TrumpWorld. The 31 year old Cohen-Watnick may well be a Putin mole inside the National Security Council, where he works as a senior director. As soon as he was hired-- with assurances from Trump he would have control over NSC staffing-- Lt. General H.R. McMaster immediately started removing the Russian spies Flynn had brought into the NSC and quickly moved to fire Cohen-Watnick. Bannon appealed to another Putin-puppet inside the Trump Regime, Kushner-in-law, and they persuaded Trump to go back on his assurances to McMaster and over-rule him on Cohen-Watnick. It's widely believed that Cohen-Watnick, who had been illicitly feeding Devin Nunes selective government documents, will eventually be charged with purloining classified intelligence reports and using them for political purposes, a crime. Putin pays Cohen-Watnick through his wife, Becky, who works as a Russian propaganda agent.

Sunday, Atlantic reporter Rosie Gray took at look at what Cohen-Watnick is doing for Putin inside the Trump Regime. She reported, as we did in April that the only person McMaster couldn't get out of the NSC was Cohen-Watnick. McMaster tried to remove him in March," reported Gray, "but President Trump, at the urging of Bannon and Jared Kushner, told McMaster that Cohen-Watnick was staying." As senior director for intelligence programs on the NSC Coehn-Watnick is in an extremely key position as the person meant to coordinate and liaise between the U.S. intelligence community and the White House.


"If the incumbent has an effective working relationship with the national-security adviser or even the president directly, the senior director for intelligence has an opportunity to exercise considerable influence on intelligence policy, covert actions, and sensitive collection operations," said Stephen Slick, a former CIA official who held the position during the Bush administration.

The CIA has traditionally had control over who fills this position, and normally the job is staffed by a more experienced official. McMaster, assuming he’d be allowed to relieve or reassign Cohen-Watnick, had gone so far as to interview Cohen-Watnick’s potential replacement, Linda Weissgold, a veteran CIA officer.

Despite his prominent, and apparently quite secure, position in Trump’s NSC, little is known about Cohen-Watnick, who had spent much of his short career as a low-ranking official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Information about him in publicly available sources is scarce. Few higher-ups from the DIA remember him. Only one picture of him can be found online, a snapshot unearthed by Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen.

Unlike other White House officials who have become public figures in their own right, Cohen-Watnick never speaks for himself publicly, leaving others to fill the void. Yet he hardly comes into sharper focus when you talk to co-workers, friends, and former colleagues. Ask around about Ezra Cohen-Watnick, and people get defensive. Some profess not to know him, or ask why anyone would want to write about him. Others simply refuse to discuss him.

“I won’t talk to any journalist about Ezra,” said Michael Ledeen, a Flynn confidant who knows Cohen-Watnick well.

“Is it one of your hit pieces?” asked Bannon, who didn’t respond to a further request for comment.

Bannon and Ledeen may be wary of talking about Cohen-Watnick after his first, and thus far only, turn in the national spotlight. Washington got its first real look at Cohen-Watnick when he was identified as one of two White House sources who provided House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes with evidence that former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the “unmasking” of the names of Trump associates in intelligence documents. In the intelligence world, incidental collection refers to intelligence agencies obtaining, in the course of monitoring foreigners, communications that either refer to or involve Americans, whose names are typically “masked” unless officials request that they be “unmasked.”

The incident, coming in the aftermath of Trump baselessly accusing his predecessor of wiretapping Trump Tower, became one of the first dust-ups related to the investigations into possible Russian collusion during the 2016 campaign that have gripped the White House. The president later accused Rice of having committed a crime; for her part, Rice has denied that she ordered the unmasking for political purposes.

Despite that early controversy, Cohen-Watnick retains one of the most consequential intelligence jobs in the nation, and his influence is rising. He is in the thick of some of the most important policy fights at the White House; he is viewed as an Iran hawk and has been characterized, for instance, as a main proponent of expanding U.S. efforts against Iran-backed militias in Syria. And beyond policy specifics, he’s become a flashpoint in the long-running tension between Trump and the intelligence community, a part of the U.S. government that the president has at times openly disdained.

Yet what we don’t know about Cohen-Watnick far outstrips what we do. Was he a central player in the Nunes scandal, or just a bystander? Has he retained his job due to his talent, or is he being protected because he's advancing the agenda of powerful West Wing patrons? What, besides loyalty to the president, are his credentials? Is he Flynn's mole on the council, or does he not even know the deposed national-security adviser all that well? Is he brash and difficult to work with, or modest and brilliant? And perhaps most important: Now that he has the president’s ear, what will he whisper into it?

...Newsweek reported that Cohen-Watnick entered the Defense Clandestine Service in 2012 and was sent to “The Farm,” the CIA training facility in Virginia, in 2013. Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen reported on Twitter that Cohen-Watnick had done work on Haiti while based out of the Department of Defense’s Miami office. Records show he registered to vote in 2012 with a Miami address, as a Republican and as a Hispanic male (his mother is Colombian).

According to a former senior intelligence official, Cohen-Watnick later served overseas in Afghanistan at a CIA base. “He was embedded with the Agency guys,” said a person familiar with Cohen-Watnick’s career. “But the Agency guys were all like ‘Fuck this guy, he’s just here to spy on us for Flynn and the DIA.’”

A White House official said that Cohen-Watnick did not know Flynn at the time he was in Afghanistan but did not dispute that there were “rivalries between CIA and DIA.”

It was Cohen-Watnick’s connection with Michael Flynn that would catapult him into the top ranks of America’s intelligence officials. But even the seemingly straightforward question of how and when they met yields contradictory and conflicting accounts. One person familiar with his career asserted that Cohen-Watnick had met Matt Flynn, Michael Flynn’s son, at “The Farm.” Another, a former senior intelligence official, said he had briefed Flynn at the DIA.

According to a third person familiar with the matter, the real story is that Cohen-Watnick actually met Flynn much later, in 2016, at a coffee arranged by Michael Ledeen’s wife Barbara, who Cohen-Watnick knows from growing up outside of Washington. Ledeen is a friend of Flynn’s and co-authored the book Field of Fight with him. Barbara introduced him to Cohen-Watnick; the couple connected the young officer with Flynn, and the two kept in touch over the course of the year. Flynn became a prominent surrogate for the Trump campaign, famously leading a “lock her up” chant at the Republican National Convention, and was even considered as the running mate.

Flynn’s time at the helm of the DIA was notoriously troubled. The general came in with a brash approach that rubbed his colleagues the wrong way and eventually led to his being forced out in 2014 by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Mike Vickers.

This appears to have been a time at which Cohen-Watnick was at a crossroads. In the summer of 2016, Cohen, unhappy at the DIA, began applying for positions on Capitol Hill, interviewing with the House Armed Services Committee, a congressional staffer said. He was notified on August 16, 2016, that he wouldn’t be getting the job. Later that year, in November, Cohen-Watnick married Rebecca Miller, according to a notice on his family’s synagogue’s website.

Trump’s election changed everything for Cohen-Watnick, as it did for many people in Washington. He was chosen for the NSC job during the transition, surprising his new colleagues.

“I didn’t know Ezra from Adam,” said one former intelligence officer who is a member of the NSC. “I didn’t know what job he was going to have in the transition. I met him a few times. I didn’t realize he was running it at first.”

“It’s a very important position and essentially it’s a deep cull,” said a White House colleague who has known Cohen-Watnick for years. “It’s an early pick.” This official described Cohen-Watnick as someone who would seem like a natural choice for the job in five or 10 years’ time, but not now.

“It is noteworthy that someone with very limited experience (a very junior GG-12 in DIA) is appointed to such a senior and critical position,” said Doug Wise, who was for a time Flynn’s top deputy at the DIA . (GG-12 is the equivalent of an Army captain in the DIA; Cohen-Watnick’s rank before he left was actually GS-13, equivalent to a major, according to a source familiar with his career). “This is especially noteworthy when you compare Cohen to some of the individuals who have served in that position, George Tenet, David Shedd, Mary Sturtevant, Stephen Slick, and other very experienced officers were already members of the Senior Intelligence Service when they were appointed. These and the other officers who served in that position were career intelligence officials with serious credentials, demonstrated maturity, and a wealth of experience."

One way or another, Michael Flynn seems to have elevated Cohen-Watnick to his high station in the Trump administration. What remains a mystery is who exactly has protected him since Flynn went down, and why.

Cohen-Watnick’s ability to hang on despite the direct attempt by his superior to remove him raised eyebrows across Washington, and especially in the intelligence world.

“It is very unusual that when H.R. McMaster tried to move Cohen to another position within the NSC, his decision was publicly overturned by the president,” Wise said. “This says much more about Cohen’s political connections than his experience in the intelligence business."

Here, again, multiple officials directly familiar with the events offer contrasting versions of what took place. Some insist that Kushner and Bannon were willing to expend capital on behalf of Cohen-Watnick. According to one person with direct knowledge of the meeting, the roots of their loyalty to Cohen-Watnick stem from a briefing he delivered during Trump’s first visit to the White House situation room in February, at which Kushner was present as well as Pence. Kushner and the president were apparently impressed with the young briefer and took an interest in him.

“Ezra is deeply thoughtful, hard working, and committed to serving the president,” Kushner said, offering a rare on-the-record comment, which is itself a testament to Cohen-Watnick’s importance.

But a favorable first impression doesn’t quite explain the president intervening to prevent his boss from removing him. Others stressed his commitment to Trump’s worldview, such as it is Trump’s foreign policy statements have been long on rhetoric, but short on specifics-- prompting leading figures within the White House to contend for influence, seeking to persuade the president to back their preferred approaches. Those drawn from the ranks of the Republican foreign-policy establishment tend to favor its traditional views: committed to longstanding alliances like NATO, skeptical of Russia, and supportive of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others, who supported Trump’s insurgent campaign early on, tend to favor the ideas he advocated on the stump: concern that allies are freeloading, interest in strengthening ties with Russia, and a focus on the threat posed Islamic extremism in nations like Iran.

This split has created a decision-making process in which the responses to each unfolding event can point in a different policy direction than the last. After the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians in April, for example, Trump ordered strikes against one of their airbases, angering Syria's ally Russia. But the Trump administration recently announced a ceasefire agreement for southwest Syria negotiated with Russia.

In this context, a staffer who personally briefs the president on his options can be an invaluable ally to other senior officials. And in an administration that has struggled to fill senior national-security roles with appointees sympathetic to Trump’s ideas, a staffer whose views are closer to the president’s than to the think-tanks that line Massachusetts Avenue may be too valuable to lose.

“I would describe President Trump’s foreign-policy vision as absolutely one Ezra completely supports,” said the White House colleague who has known Cohen-Watnick for years. “Ezra has consistently provided value, insight, and support at the highest levels of the White House.”

This may be why several White House staffers used the same word to describe Cohen-Watnick: loyal. One White House official praised Cohen-Watnick as a "true professional and most importantly he is incredibly loyal to the president and this administration.”

“He’s loyal to the president and he’s made a super impression on everyone that deals with him, me included,” said the former intelligence officer who is now a senior NSC official.

The Nunes scandal cemented Cohen-Watnick's reputation as a loyalist and as someone who could withstand the heat of public controversy. But once more, different officials offer flatly contradictory versions of what transpired.

... Whether or not Cohen-Watnick was actually one of Nunes's sources, the public reports tied him to the controversy. They also left the impression that, to defend the president against claims he had leveled unsubstantiated charges of wiretapping against his predecessor, Cohen-Watnick had been prepared to attack the actions of NSC officials and of other elements of the intelligence community. The reports about the Nunes episode suggested to career staffers, perhaps unfairly, that the NSC’s senior director for intelligence was less interested in presenting their views to the president than in imposing the president’s views on them.

Since then, the conflicts within the NSC have settled down, at least publicly. But this is the Trump White House, a hotbed of resentments even when they're not spilling over into public view. Cohen-Watnick survived, but he's remained a topic of gossip and a target of leaks—a flashpoint in the ongoing fight over the administration’s foreign policy.

The Washington Post reported in April that days after McMaster’s effort to remove Cohen-Watnick, the CIA’s liaison to the White House was fired. The Guardian's story on the firing cited sources describing it as an “act of retaliation” against the CIA for encouraging McMaster to sack Cohen-Watnick, a report unlikely to endear him to his colleagues.

But then, McMaster himself became the target of unflattering leaks. In May, Bloomberg reported that Trump had “screamed” at McMaster in a phone call and had become “disillusioned” with him, and that Flynn loyalists on the NSC perceived McMaster as trying to “trick” the president into supporting nation-building efforts. Also in May, Foreign Policy reported that “the knives are out” for McMaster over internal conflicts on Afghanistan policy, with him on one side and Bannon on the other. Foreign Policy noted that McMaster has become the target of online critics, most notably Mike Cernovich, the pro-Trump activist and blogger. Cernovich has also targeted other McMaster allies in the NSC such as Dina Powell.

Cernovich has cited White House sources repeatedly in his reports, though he has told me that he doesn’t know who his sources are and relies on burner phones to keep in touch with them.

One of the most recent McMaster-related leaks was to the AP last week; sources said McMaster had told foreign officials he disapproves of Trump’s closeness with Russia. The story made West Wing senior staff “furious,” according to a senior White House official, who added “if true, a man of honor would resign.”

The leaks have created an atmosphere of suspicion on the NSC, where morale has never been particularly high since the start of the administration. But they’re not always unflattering; some leaks have suggested a prominent policy role for the young staffer. Cohen-Watnick has developed a reputation as one of the primary proponents of an aggressive, Flynn-style stance towards Iran within the NSC. A recent story in the New York Times said that Cohen-Watnick was pushing for regime change in Iran from within the administration. And another recent story in Foreign Policy tagged him and Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top official on Middle East issues, as pushing for increased action against Iranian-backed forces in Syria.

“I don’t think it was accurate at all,” said the former intelligence official on the NSC of the Foreign Policy piece, calling it “fake news recycling other fake news.” This official argued that Cohen-Watnick, in his role as the liaison between the White House and intelligence agencies, has no purview over Iran policy: “I’ve never heard Ezra talk about; it’s not in his lane and he’s not involved in those regional policy discussions.”

Furthermore, this official said, those who think NSC officials are exerting broad influence over policy are misreading the current NSC by comparing it to the Obama-era one, where “they were micromanagers who had a long screwdriver and were fundamentally calling the shots even on tactical-level operations in places like Syria and Iraq.”

“I’ve never seen the media [more] united about a topic than around Ezra and that’s a cause of curiosity amongst anyone with some sense of skepticism,” said the White House official who is close to Cohen-Watnick.

Cohen-Watnick’s allies see the leaks about him as evidence of a concerted campaign backed by his detractors in the intelligence community. They suggest that this is motivated by his conflict with the CIA. And they have a different theory as to why he has retained his job, and why he’s drawn attacks: It’s because, they insist, he’s good at what he does.

“He’s a genuinely funny, sardonic, very intelligent, interesting human. He’s not a robot or the way he’s been portrayed,” said one of the senior White House officials. “That human element has been I think completely lost in all of the coverage of him.”

“He’s very engaging, very personable, he tries to connect with people,” said the former intelligence officer on the NSC. But he is “able to parse and probe in a way that makes some of his interlocutors very uncomfortable.” Plus, “the fact that he’s younger than many of these people creates a natural backlash.”

This official described a recent interagency meeting in which Cohen-Watnick was asking about the reasons for covert programs in a country that “on the surface seemed to make sense,” but Cohen “identified a waste of resources and ineffective application,” a duplication of efforts costing an extra $30 million.

Cohen-Watnick’s intense approach, this person said, “causes some people to respond negatively rather than saying a-ha, this is a good thing, now we can reprogram.” CIA representatives pushed back on Cohen-Watnick, and the atmosphere was “frustrated.”

Like most people in this kind of job, Cohen-Watnick is a workaholic, sometimes sleeping on his couch in case he has to respond to something or go somewhere in the middle of the night, the White House colleague who knows him well said. Asked what he does for fun, the colleague said Cohen-Watnick works out and reads military history and philosophy.

It’s an appealing account. The trouble is, like most everything else about Cohen-Watnick, it’s all but impossible to verify, or to reconcile with other versions. Perhaps it’s because he’s emerged so swiftly from the murky world of intelligence. Or maybe it’s because he sits on the fault line of a fractured administration. But now that he’s in the spotlight, he may find further scrutiny hard to avoid.

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