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John McCain’s Ultimate Vanity Production

McCain Ovation

He could have just stayed in Arizona. He didn’t have to vote at all, if he doesn’t like the Republican so-called health care bill, which he says he wouldn’t vote for in its current form (whatever that is). If McCain had just stayed in bed, McConnell’s atrocity would have been dead.

But no, John McCain had to rise heroically from his bed of pain, because–you know–he’s a media-certified hero, and that’s what heros do. And sure enough, he got what he wanted–a standing ovation when he walked into the Senate chamber. Because, you know, that’s what heros deserve. It’s that red carpet moment.

So McCain did what he always does, which is to pretend to be a principled, straight-talking “maverick”. I’m calling bullshit.

McCain can talk the talk. He decried the grotesque parliamentary maneuvers employed by McConnell to keep TrumpDon’tCare alive, but again today McCain enabled them just by showing up. He laments that the Senate doesn’t do business as it used to do, but he always goes along with the Republican leadership’s scorched-earth tactics. He complains that the Republican bill is being voted on just because it’s “better than nothing.” But I’m betting that he will vote for it in the end, if for no other reason because it could kill the program named after Obama–the man who defeated him.

So, just like Marco Rubio, he harrumphs about his “reservations” in order to get credit for his self-proclaimed “independence.” But reservations only count in restaurants. In the end, McCain (like Rubio) is no maverick, but just another one of the neutered herd.

Sad.

 

Mitch McConnell: A Man Without Conviction

mcconnell molerat

Mole Rat (left) and Mitch McConnell (right)

What does it say about a man if the crowning achievement of his career is to destroy health care of millions of his countrymen by means of legislation he is crafting in secret. But that’s Mitch McConnell for you–the Mole Rat of the Senate. He labors ceaselessly in the dark, requires little oxygen, and seems to feel neither pain nor shame.

McConnell’s story is one of pursuit of power for its own sake–devoid of any guiding principles save staying in office and rising to the top of a party that rewards such behavior. His legacy is almost exclusively a negative one–destroying what others have built and fighting for corruption in government. He is the perfect man for this era in American politics that is ruled by dark money and corporate and private greed.

More than any other Republican, McConnell devised and led the war of massive and implacable resistance against Barack Obama and is now the most ruthless agent of destruction of Obama’s achievements. Trump may represent the naked id of the Republican party, but McConnell is its cunning and devious ego–and far more effective.

Oddly, however, McConnell has largely evaded the sort of personal loathing by Democrats and other progressives directed at the likes of Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump himself. The press continues to treat him as one of the “adults” in the Senate and even as a relative moderate. Objectively, it’s hard to see why. Perhaps it’s because–unlike Cruz and the Teabaggers–he really isn’t particularly ideological. Or perhaps it’s because he has a thin veneer of patrician Southern gentility–even when telling Elizabeth Warren to shut up and know her place. Or maybe it’s just his nonthreatening physical appearance which resembles an unbaked mass of bread dough that has started to deflate.

McConnell famously told a reporter for the National Journal in October 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” But according to biographer Alec MacGillis, he had outlined the strategy he was to pursue (with considerable success) soon after Obama’s first inauguration. Bob Bennett (an old school Republican who was primaryed by the insurgent Tea Party in 2010) tells it this way:

Mitch said, “We have a new president with an approval rating in the seventy percent area [Obama’s actual popularity at the beginning of his first term]. We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win, and we begin to take him down, one issue at a time. We create an inventory of losses, so it’s Obama lost on this, Obama lost on that. And we wait for the time where the image has been damaged to the point where we can take him on.”

And indeed, the Republicans led by McConnell were able to stymie almost every Obama legislative initiative after the Tea Party wave of 2010. McConnell even killed a bipartisan effort on criminal justice reform and another on immigration reform. The apotheosis of his campaign of Massive Resistance–until now–was his shameless refusal to even hold hearings for Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merritt Garland. That move by an “establishment” figure like McConnell truly signaled that the Republicans had become Bolsheviks and cared nothing for rules, procedural niceties, and customary practices that might impede their agenda. They had the power and would use it.

The one great thing that remained to be smashed was Obamacare. And that is where we are now.

One wonders what really makes Mitch tick. In his own political memoir (“The Long Game”), McConnell says this: “…personal ambition usually has a lot more to do with it than most of us are willing to admit. That was certainly true for me, and I never saw the point in pretending otherwise.” The memoir is mostly silent about ideas or principles or issues. So maybe that’s just it.

There are two recurring themes in McConnell’s story. One is his willing, even eager, embrace of money in politics. The other is his passive willingness to be remolded and repackaged by hired professional political operatives.

On money, McConnell is one of the few politicians who actually seems to like fund raising. Since his early political career, he has actively opposed spending limits on contributions. In his memoir he says, “I never would have been able to win my [first Senate race in 1984] if there had been a limit on the amount of money I could raise and spend.”

As an excellent article in the New York Review of Books by Robert G Kaiser points out, McConnell’s name is not associated with any significant piece of legislation except–and in a completely negative way–the McCain-Feingold bill of 2002 which banned the use of “soft money” from political campaigns. McConnell fiercely opposed the bill and, after it passed, even filed suit in federal court to prevent its implementation. McConnell v. Federal Election Commission reached the Supreme Court, which upheld McCain-Feingold. Of course, now in the era of Citizens United that effort at limiting the influence of money in politics seems merely quaint.

In his last senate race in 2014, McConnell topped the list of contributions received by members of either house of Congress from registered lobbyists. In the 2014 election, McConnell raised (and spent) over $30 million, against about $18 million by his Democratic opponent, according to the organization Open Secrets, which tracks such things.  The biggest single industry contributions to his campaign came from securities and investment firms (led by Blackstone Group and Goldman Sachs. They were also number 1 and 2 in individual firm contributions, followed by Humana Inc (the health insurance company), NorPAC (a pro-Israel PAC), and JP Morgan Chase.

In December 2013, the FEC threatened to audit McConnell’s re-election campaign over excessive contributions from individuals and political action committees. In December 2014, McConnell attempted to to attach a policy rider to the omnibus appropriations bill that would have effectively ended limits imposed on coordinated spending by federal candidates and political party committees. (The effort was reportedly beaten back by Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer.) In 2014, the non-partisan Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) named McConnell as one of the most corrupt members of congress (for the fourth time!).

Regarding the second theme, McConnell’s willingness to be guided by professional political operatives, this is something that goes back to his earliest days in politics. In 1977 McConnell raised an unprecedented amount of money to run for county judge (equivalent to county executive) of Jefferson County, which includes Louisville. The money attracted the attention of Robert Goodman (a commercial maker) and Tully Plesser (a pollster and strategist). Decades later, they recalled that he wasn’t really an interesting person, but he was malleable and willing to do whatever they said in order to win. He refined his message to appeal to various constituencies (and then promptly abandoned some of his promises once in office), but perhaps more importantly launched a content-free but effectively negative TV ad featuring a farmer raking horseshit which he compared to statements by McConnell’s opponent. Thus began the winning theme.

When McConnell ran for senator in 1984, he hired Roger Ailes, the future guru of Fox News, who concocted an ingenious but essentially false attack ad against his opponent. It was credited with enabling McConnell to squeak into office in a year in which Reagan won by a landslide.  The alliance with Ailes remained solid throughout McConnell’s later career. For McConnell, the moral of the story is that winning is all that counts–the politics of politics.

So it’s not that hard to see where McConnell’s current tactics on the Republicans’ mysterious health care bill come from. Trump gets all the attention, while McConnell can work his dark arts in relative obscurity. The Garland affair proved that he can upend the norms of senate procedures with utter impunity. Trump supporters couldn’t give a shit, and his Republican senate colleagues have surrendered all semblance of independent thought. When it comes down to it, they’ll vote the party line. So what that millions of people could lose their health insurance and countless others–especially the sick and the elderly–would be paying far more for theirs, while the wealthy get a big tax cut. The consequences don’t matter as long as the dough-faced nerd can show everyone that he’s the man.

I’m a man without conviction
I’m a man who doesn’t know
How to sell a contradiction?
You come and go, you come and go.

             “Karma Chameleon”–Culture Club

 

 

 

 

The End of Net Neutrality?

Agit Pai

FCC Chairman Agit Pai with his fetish cup

Perhaps, like me, you thought that the term “net neutrality” sounded vaguely like a good thing, but didn’t really understand what it means or what’s at stake when we don’t have it. Now that I have done a bit of research, I can say with considerable certainty that net neutrality is indeed a very good thing and something that should not be destroyed in this administration’s orgy of ripping up everything accomplished during the Obama years.

This is can get quite complicated, but reduced to its essence, net neutrality means that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all content equally and not favor one content provider over another. The rules put in place in 2015 prohibited ISPs from creating “fast lanes” for certain companies (presumably those who paid ISPs to obtain that status), while relegating everyone else to the “slow lanes”. The end of net neutrality potentially could also allow ISPs to discriminate according to content.

If you want a fuller and highly entertaining explanation of what this is all about, you could not do better than to watch this video where HBO’s John Oliver lays it all out.

This has become an urgent issue because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on May 18 to rescind the Obama-era regulation and is now accepting comments on whether to implement that decision. The 2015 decision was reached after Internet activists fought an major battle against lobbying by the handful of ISP companies that control internet access for the vast majority of Americans. Since the election, the power balance has been reversed, and now the FCC under chairman Agit Pai is eager to give the big ISPs what they want.

The FCC normally has 5 commissioners, but two of those posts are currently vacant. The Democrats now have one member, versus two for the Republicans. Chairman Agit Pai was nominated by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, which would pretty much tell you where he is coming from even if you didn’t know that he was previously a corporate lawyer for Verizon.

Pai (who is actually kind of hot in a slightly geeky, aging-frat-bro sort of way) is an enthusiastic deregulator and uses his considerable charm to make misleading and disingenuous arguments for his positions. His major pitch is that whenever something is regulated, there is less of that something available, and that the “burdensome” net neutrality rules mean that the poor ISPs will be unable to make investments necessary to keep up with growing demand. Obviously, the first premise is false; take electricity, for example, which is among the most heavily regulated industries and for which there is no shortage of investment or supply. Nor is there any real evidence to support the second part of the argument.

The principal counterargument is that the new FCC ruling would mean that the big ISPs could engage in all manner of what John Oliver calls “internet fuckery” and demand payment for favorable treatment. Pai insists that this is purely hypothetical and would never, ever happen, but in fact there have been instances of exactly this sort of thing before the 2015 ruling. According to Ars Technica, “the FCC also received a pro-net neutrality comment from the Internet Association, a trade group whose members include Amazon, Dropbox, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal, Reddit, Spotify, Twitter, and about 30 other Web companies.”

But here’s where what’s happening really gets down in the weeds. The proposed change involves a reclassification of ISPs from Title 2 of the FCC legislation to Title 1. Under Title 2, ISPs are treated as “common carriers” which are closely regulated. Giving them a different classification would make them far less regulatable. And it allows those opposed to net neutrality to dismiss the whole controversy as just a simple little reclassification thing, so you kids just run along and play.

This is happening in the wake of the Republican-controlled congress voting–on straight party line vote–to kill Obama-era regulations on Internet privacy, which would have prohibited Internet providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, from storing and selling customers’ browsing histories without their express consent. The Washington Post recently explained how the congressional Republicans accomplished this under the radar, using the furor over health care legislation as cover. So now, folks, your browsing history is a commodity like everything else, proving once again that there is literally nothing that the Republicans won’t do for their corporate overlords.

The comment period on the net neutrality decision remains open for three months. The FCC has made it as burdensome as possible to actually register a comment, but happily John Oliver’s folks have established a domain name and site (gofccyourself.com) that will take you directly there. Just click here and then on “Express”, and let them know what you think.

 

 

Sucking Up to Despots, Alienating Friends

Nato leaders

WTF?:  European leaders listening to Trump’s Speech at NATO summit.

Conservative commentator Joe Scarborough called the speech “a love note for Vladimir Putin.” Indeed, if Putin had wanted to sow doubt and distrust among our European allies, he probably couldn’t have done better if he had written Trump’s NATO summit speech himself.

Trump used his first speech to leaders of our NATO allies to berate them for not spending enough for defense, but conspicuously failed to state that the US would consider an attack on any NATO member an attack on all–the central pillar of the alliance.

Trump’s silence on the latter point–Article 5 of the NATO treaty–has been a source of anxiety among European members (particularly Eastern European countries that were once Soviet satellites or republics of the Soviet Union). During last year’s election campaign, Trump repeatedly called NATO “obsolete” and implied that US commitment to defend NATO members would be conditional on how much members contributed to the cost of defense. Trump’s continuing speak-no-evil policy on Putin and Russia has also contributed to their worries in the wake of Moscow’s support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The revelations in the on-going RussiaGate investigations in the US aren’t helping assuage their concerns either.

At the speech, the Europeans stood stony-faced as Trump declared that  “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying,” and that they owe “massive amounts” from past years. The Washington Post noted that “Trump was left largely on his own after the speech as leaders mingled and laughed with each other, leaving the U.S. president to stand silently on a stage ahead of a group photo.”

The atmosphere was decidedly chillier than the enthusiastic reception he had enjoyed in despotic Saudi Arabia, where members of the Trump entourage like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross marveled at the lack of protesters. [Hint: Protesters in Saudi Arabia are severely punished, like by being beheaded.] In Riyadh, Trump called on his hosts and other Muslim countries to “drive out the terrorists and extremists” (a speech that Newt Gingrich hilariously called “a titanic shift in U.S. foreign policy”), apparently oblivious of the fact that Saudi government promotion of Wahhabism has provided the theological and financial underpinning for Sunni extremism throughout the world and that Saudis have been the most numerous perpetrators of large scale terrorist attacks–like 9/11.

In Israel, his hosts were again determinedly welcoming and suppressed their reactions to gaffes like Trump’s puerile and semi-literate note left at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. At the Vatican, the meeting with the Pope appears to have been a lot more awkward. A viral photo shows Trump grinning next to Melania and Ivanka, got up like the bride and bridesmaid at a satanic wedding, while the Pope looks like “how did I get roped into this?” Sometimes photos speak volumes.

trumps with pope

But back to NATO. As usual, Trump’s accusations about European freeloading aren’t quite factual. The New York Times pointed out that there is no obligation for NATO members to spend two percent of their GDP on defense. That was established as a guideline in 2014 with a goal of reaching it by 2024, but that’s all it is. No NATO members actually owe anything. NATO has a common budget to cover military and civilian operations, and members are assessed according to a formula based on GDP. No members are in arrears on such contributions.

The enormous size of the US defense budget is an outlier compared to all other countries in the world. (The US spends more on defense that the next seven largest militaries combined.) Most of US military spending since 2001 has gone for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the US entered into on its own, not as part of NATO. While it could be argued that NATO countries have benefited from unilateral US military operations, it’s worth bearing in mind that many European countries opposed the Iraq war. And the UK, Germany, and other NATO countries have sent troops to Afghanistan.

It’s not as if NATO countries spending more on defense would mean the US would spend less. Indeed, Trump’s budget proposal would mean a 10 percent increase in US defense spending because…well, we don’t actually know why. Given that US defense spending is already an order of magnitude more than any other country’s, it seems mainly to be a macho thing. There is a strong argument to be made that rather than the Europeans are spending too little on defense, the US is spending too much–particularly since the proposed increase would mean drastic spending cuts on non-military programs.

The point here is that Trump’s remarks were clearly intended (and understood) as gratuitous affronts to our country’s most valuable allies and delivered in the crudest and most public way possible.

Putin’s grand strategy has long been to create discord between and within Europe and the US. leading eventually to the dissolution of NATO and the EU and paralyzing political conflict in the US. He appears to be succeeding beyond his wildest dreams, with Donald Trump as his useful fool.

A Voice Crying Out in the Post-Ethics Wilderness

Let us now praise Walter M. Shaub, Jr.

In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the head of the Office of Government Ethics, and the man trying to hold back the flood of corruption unleashed by the Trump kleptocracy.

Shaub is now involved in a battle with the White House after he requested release of the names of all former lobbyists who have been given waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies by the Trump administration–a request which the White House has demanded that he withdraw while challenging his authority to ask for the information.

The New York Times reports that dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are now “working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous  administration.” Such lobbyists and lawyers are prohibited from working on matters involving former clients for two years, and lobbyists can’t work on the regulatory issues that they had previously lobbied on. The reasons should be obvious.

However, the administration can issue waivers. According to the NYT story, the Obama administration automatically made all waivers public and included detailed explanations for each waiver. In contrast, the Trump Administration has kept them secret, hence the request for information made by Shaub on behalf of the OGE.

The aggressive refusal of the Trump administration to comply has shocked those familiar with past practices and has raised new concerns about what they are trying to conceal. By law, the OGE has clear authority to make such a “data request” to federal agencies (though there is some debate whether the White House itself is considered a “federal agency”). In any case, Shaub clearly isn’t backing down and shot off a blistering 10-page response to the White House’s rebuff of the original request.

Now Democrats in congress are protesting the secret waivers and threatening to issue their own demands for information if the White House continues to stonewall. As usual, congressional Republicans are attacking Shaub and his agency for doing their job.

Back in November, soon after the election, Shaub sent out a series of tongue-in-cheek tweets which congratulated Trump for his decision to divest himself of his assets and cited laws, regulations, and established custom for doing so.  Of course, Trump did no such thing. And after Trump’s laughable announcement that he was turning over management of his assets to this sons while retaining full ownership, and the inclusion of Ivanka and her husband in the White House staff while they retained de facto control of their enterprises, Shaub rebuked them for their pitifully inadequate steps to avoid conflicts of interests.  This in turn, aroused Republican attack dogs in congress, like Jason Chaffetz, to attack the ethics watchdog.

The Trump famiglia‘s shameless exploitation of the White House for personal enrichment is bad enough to warrant outrage and investigation. But potentially far worse would be the wholesale turnover of federal government agencies to the agents of the corporations, industries, and interests they are supposed to regulate on behalf of the American people as a whole.

Some of this is happening in plain sight with the appointment of people like Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, etc. to cabinet level positions. But those, at least, require senate confirmation and public scrutiny.  Secretly embedding scores of corporate and industry agents in key positions in federal agencies is another matter entirely and should be strongly denounced and resisted.

We seem to be well on our way to government by the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against. It may be a losing battle, but be glad for true patriots in the professional federal bureaucracy like Walter Shaub who are trying to keep some hope alive for government by the people rather than corporations. His fight should concern us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Lieberman for FBI Chief? Oh, Hell No!!

devos-with-lieberman

Trump has a well-established record of appointing people as heads of federal agencies for the specific purpose of destroying those agencies or subverting their mission. And now we are informed that Joe Lieberman is Trump’s top choice to head the FBI after he fired James Comey. Wonder why?

There are so many things wrong with this, but let’s start with the fact that Lieberman is a senior counsel with the law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, whose founding partner Marc Kasowitz happens to be Donald Trump’s lawyer on litigation matters. Indeed, Kasowitz put being Trump’s litigator first on his list of “notable representations” on the firm’s website. That is an enormous red conflict-of-interest flag.

Update (5/23/17):  The Washington Post reports that Trump has retained Marc Kasowitz as counsel to represent him in dealing with investigations regarding RussiaGate. This means that if Lieberman were FBI chief he would be in charge of an investigation into Trump and his campaign, where Trump’s chief lawyer is principal partner of the law firm that currently employs Lieberman (and very likely hired him).  This alone should be enough to disqualify him to head the FBI for glaringly obvious reasons, even if Lieberman resigned from the firm, as he almost certainly would.

Then there was Lieberman acting as a shill for Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearings for Secretary of Education. She was a nominee so obviously unfit for that post that it took a tie-break vote by the vice president to get her confirmed, and yet there was Lieberman speaking for her and sitting side-by-side with her day after day during the hearings, presumably to lend her some shred of bi-partisan credibility.

The problem is that Joe Lieberman no longer has any credibility to lend. His journey from Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000 to Trump supplicant today is a sad tale of political narcissism and opportunism.

During the infamous Florida recount to determine the outcome of the 2000 election, Lieberman infuriated Democrats by undermining their legal argument that overseas votes that lacked postmarks or signatures should be disqualified, saying that all military votes should be given “the benefit of the doubt.” That alone would probably have been enough to tip Florida’s electoral votes to Bush in that razor-thin race.

Lieberman effectively bolted from the Democratic Party after he lost a primary challenge to run for senator from Connecticut in 2006. He then ran as the de facto Republican candidate (officially as an “independent”) and narrowly managed to win in a three-way race.  He capped his defection by endorsing John McCain against Barack Obama in 2008 and speaking on McCain’s behalf at the Republican national convention. During the Bush years, he was also an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Iraq War.

While Lieberman was still in the Senate, the Democratic leadership held its collective nose and continued to allow him to caucus with them, largely because they needed his vote for the battle to pass the Affordable Care Act. Characteristically, Lieberman double-crossed them, refusing to provide the crucial vote needed to extend Medicare to everyone 55 and over.

After the parties made their nominations in 2016, Lieberman did not endorse Trump and even did a little campaigning for Clinton, targeting Jewish voters in Florida who didn’t think she was pro-Israel enough. He might well have done her more harm than good especially among Bernie Sanders supporters and progressive Democrats who were already leery of Hillary, hated Lieberman for his betrayals, and thoroughly distrusted him. (Clinton lost Florida by about 113,000 votes.) One might suspect that Lieberman fully expected Clinton to win and was trying to mend bridges with Democrats and curry favor with what he thought would be the incoming administration.

Lieberman still continues to call himself a Democrat, though virtually no one else–including his former senate colleagues–considers him to be one any longer. Since leaving the Senate, in addition to working for Trump’s law firm, he has been the co-chair of No Labels, a supposedly non-partisan political advocacy group which urges politicians to put party affiliations aside “and do what’s best for America.” Yet during the campaign, when pressed to say something for No Labels about Trump’s racism, misogyny, and anti-science rants, Lieberman dissembled and avoided answering. No Labels includes Trump among its list of prominent “problem solvers“.

As Rolling Stone has pointed out, there has never been a politician appointed as head of the FBI. “Every past director served as either an agent in the bureau, a federal prosecutor or a federal judge prior to their nomination.” Lieberman has done none of those things. (He was attorney general of Connecticut for 6 years some 30 years ago.) Moreover, he is now 75 years old, which would make him 85 if he were to serve a full 10 year term.

The argument for Lieberman will be that he is independent and non-partisan, rather than that he has experience and competence in law enforcement.  However, his actions over the last 10+ years give ample reason to think that he would be about as “fair and balanced” as Fox News and that he would bend over backwards to accommodate Trump and his new buddies in this administration.

I think a more compelling reason for picking Lieberman, if Trump indeed decides to nominate him, is that this would be just another spite nomination and another jab at the Obama legacy. What could be better than to put the FBI under a turncoat who rejected Obama in 2008 and again in 2012? The Trumpies may believe Lieberman still has Democrat friends in the senate who will vote for him–and, who knows, they may be right. If they do, they will be making a terrible mistake.

 

 

 

Paul Ryan: “What’s said in the family stays in the family.”

godfather2

Paul Ryan: “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on a conversation that took place last July 15 among House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican Conference Chairperson Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and others. (The complete transcript provided by the Post is here.) The headline from the meeting (which happened the day after it was revealed that the Russians had hacked into the Democratic National Committee) has been McCarthy’s assertion that Putin was paying Trump. But to me, what came before is equally, if not more, interesting.

The group were talking quite seriously about Russian efforts to subvert Ukraine and the extension of such efforts throughout Europe.

Ryan: This is, this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Rodgers: So yeah, it is a, um…a way…it’s really a messaging…you know…they are…it’s a propaganda war.

Ryan: Russia is trying to turn Ukraine against itself.

Rodgers: Yes, and that’s…it’s sophisticated and it’s, uh…

Ryan: Maniacal.

Rodgers: Yes.

Ryan: And guess…guess who’s the only one taking a strong stand against it? We are.

Rodgers: We’re not..we’re not…but we’re not…

Okay, let’s stop here for a minute. What we seem to have here are expressions of considerable concern about the seriousness of Russia’s attempts to undermine Ukraine and the rest of Europe. Nobody is laughing. Ryan even calls it “maniacal”. There is some question about who the “we” is in Ryan’s remark about taking a “strong stand”–he could mean the US government (then still the Obama administration) or the Republican party. Rodger’s rejoinder of “we’re not” makes more sense if it’s the latter, as this conversation occurred during the run-up to the Republican convention when Trump had the nomination sewed up and the leaders of Trump’s campaign under Paul Manafort were working, successfully, to gut the Republican anti-Russian plank in the party platform.

Then it all becomes a little funny as McCarthy chimes in:

McCarthy: I’ll GUARANTEE you that’s what it is….The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp[osition] research they had on Trump. [laughs]

Ryan: The Russians hacked the DNC…

McHenry [sic]: …to get oppo…

Ryan: …on Trump…and like delivered it to…to who?

McCarthy: There’s…there’s two people, I think, Putin pays…[CA Republican congressman Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump…[laughter]…Swear to God!

[laughter]

Ryan: This is an off the record…[laughter]…NO LEAKS…[laughter]…alright?!

Obviously, this can be looked at different ways. But the one undeniable thing that emerges out of this conversation is that the Republican congressional leadership, speaking frankly among colleagues, would spontaneously express the idea that Trump was in Putin’s pocket. And furthermore, no one denied it! Even as a joke, that says a lot.

Of course, the participants in this session initially denied that it ever took place. Only when confronted with the news that there is a recording of it did they change their tune, and say that it was all just a joke. That in itself, tells you quite a bit about their credibility.

My takeaway from this, is that Ryan and McCarthy and the rest of the Republican congressional leadership know full well that there is substance to RussiaGate, but they are so cynically bent on realizing their legislative agenda, that they absolutely don’t care.

And so they will continue to run interference for Trump as long as they can.

As Steve Scalise said:  “That’s how you know we’re tight.”