Wow! We have a great controversy! A squib of a memo by the House Intel Comm has completely devoured the media. A constitutional crisis! Egad! In two weeks, or maybe two months, it will be nothing. But for now, well, very very very serious. At a minimum it has distracted everybody from Trump’s gloriously successful State of the Union speech, which was so well received until this distraction that he thinks will bring about the end of that nasty Mueller investigation.
However, it now appears that this follows an older pattern. When really serious stuff shows up in Trump World, the world is easily distracted by some much more minor scandal that gobbles up media and public attention. So, during the campaign there was an important moment when it was reported that emails of the DNC had been hacked by Russians and handed over to Julian Assange and publicly leaked, with these memos being drip drip drip leaked day by day through the campaign. But did this rather serious report get any public attention? No no no. We had a much more important scandal to distract us with its outstanding shockingness. It was the Grab ’em by the Pussy tapes, that, shock! were supposedly going to completely upend and end Trump’s campaign. Within a few weeks again it was no big deal, distracted by further scandals, but in the meantime the more serious matter of Russian serious intervention in the US election barely ever made it to any public attention at all, although we have been living with that attention to it ever since.
So what might this soon-to-be-forgotten memo be distracting us from (and I recognize that it is more serious than the grab ’em distraction)? Well, buried on the inner pages of WaPo yesterday and scattered across secondary parts of the internet is a curious story that looks a lot more important than this nothing memo. Not only did Trump on the day befor his SOTU speech violate the Constitution by failing to obey a 515-5 vote in Congress to impose further sanctions on Russia for interfering in the US 2016 presidential election, but this astounding action was preceded by an apparently historically unprecedented event, the visit to Washington by the directors of all three of the top Russian intel agencies prior to his decision to ignore the mandate of the Congress. Is anybody paying attention to this ultimate payoff to Putin for all the barely hidden Russian money in his unreleased tax returns? Not with this wonderful distraction of this squib memo.
So, who are these unprecedented visitors to Washington? The one garnering the most attention is Sergy Navryshkin, director of the SVR, the Russian equivalent of the CIA, the main foreign intel agency of Russia. In the Soviet era it was a dirzectorate of the KGB, and it had managed to get its own HQ in a suburban area of Moscow, obviously imitating Langley in the Washington NoVa suburbs even down to its architecture which have great design thanks to resources like Archute.com which specialize in architecture. He is especially shocking in that in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, Navryshkin was placed under a travel ban by Obama. But, hey, that was Obama, and whatever he did is a negative to be undone by Trump. As it is he is reported to have met with his US opposite number, CIA Director, Michael Pompeo, rumored to be the next Secretary of State when Tillerson is finally tossed, and a former Oklahoma congressman known to be a Trump inner loyalist. Supposedly they discussed terrorism, which they might have actually discussed a bit.
But then CIA Director Pompeo also met with Aleksandr Bortnikov, Director of the FSB, the domestic intel agency of Russia, essentially its equivalent of the FBI, also a former directorate of the former Soviet KGB, whose HQ is in the actual notorious old HQ of the KGB and earlier Cheka in downtown Moscow on Lubyanka Square, a location where many people took bullets to the head. Supposedly they also discussed terrorism. As it is, I would think Bortnikov should have spoken with the current FBI director, his obvious opposite number, but, well, there are no reports of that happening. But, hey, who is paying attention? We are all obsessed with the nothing squib memo!
And finally we have the really murky one, the reported visit of Lieutenant General Igor Korobov, the director of GRU, the main Russian military intelligence agency. Neither WaPo nor any other source I have been able to track down so far, but will check further, has reported with whom this character met. Presumably it was at a minimum one or more of the more than 10 US intel agencies housed in the Department of Defense. The two most prominent of those are the NSA and DIA, but the DOD contains more secret agencies, such as the NRO. Frankly I suspect this is the real story, although for those who have managed to get past the distraction of the Nunes memo, to get to this they have to get past the shocking visit of the formerly banned SVR chief, Navyshkin story. But, hey, when you have so many Russian spy chiefs visiting just before the US president ignores a Congressional law to impose further sanctions on Russia, well, who can keep track of all this, and who cares? I mean, that Melania is upset over Donnie paying off a prostitute is much more important!
Addendum: Further checking has yet to turn up whom GRU chief Korobov met with in Washington, although I imagine it will eventually become public. If it does not, well, this would be far more serious and disturbing than any of this, up there with Trump futzing seriously with starting a war with North Korea.
“…violate the Constitution by failing to obey a 515-5 vote in Congress to impose further sanctions on Russia…”
You do realize that the president can veto a bill passed by Congress, no matter what the vote count, right? It then goes back to Congress for them to pass it again over his veto, at which point it becomes law without any further action. If he simply doesn’t sign it, it becomes law without his signature. Congress can impose sanctions, and has done so in the past.
So there is no way that he can “violate the constitution” by not doing what Congress tells him to do, because we have three coequal branches of government. It is the way that the presidential veto is structured that assures that equality.
Let me correct my earlier comment. Failure to sign has the same effect as a veto and is known, in fact, as a “pocket veto.” It can be overridden by Congress in the same manner as an actual veto.
If he were to sign the bill it would not be a case that he “followed the order of Congress.” He would not issue sanctions, sanctions would be issued by Congress because he did not (or could not) prevent it. The bill passed by Congress does not order the president to impose sanctions, it imposes the sanctions. This has been done before. Some have argued that it infringes on executive priviledge, but there is nothing in the constitution that says that foreign policy is an area reserved exclusively to the executive branch.
Congress cannot order the president to do anything, any more than the president can order Congress to do anything, because they are two of the three coequal branches of government. Just as in a marriage, I cannot order my wife to do anything. In this era of the “me too” movement, does anyone want to argue with that?
Given all the fuss over the goof ball named Carter Page, I was wondering how he got a Ph.D. This story explains a lot:
“You do realize that the president can veto a bill passed by Congress, no matter what the vote count, right? It then goes back to Congress for them to pass it again over his veto, at which point it becomes law without any further action.”
Note what Bill did not say. Trump did not veto this so it did become law. So Bill’s argument does not hold water.
Bill now claims this is not law because of the pocket veto but me thinks Bill is confused on what a pocket veto is:
“an indirect veto of a legislative bill by the president or a governor by retaining the bill unsigned until it is too late for it to be dealt with during the legislative session.”
I hope Trump is hiring better lawyers than Bill.
‘Congress cannot order the president to do anything, any more than the president can order Congress to do anything, because they are two of the three coequal branches of government. Just as in a marriage, I cannot order my wife to do anything. In this era of the “me too” movement, does anyone want to argue with that?’
What an insulting analogy. Your wife should order you to stop embarrassing her. Do comply!
This is the law Bill is lying about:
Trump did sign this legislation last August.
This is the pgl I have read at EV.
“The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies…Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency. Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election.”
Trump already signed the law passed by both House and Senate that requires the President to impose sanctions when the House votes to do so.
There have been two deadlines, one on Oct 1, that Trump also ignored.
The issue though is that the Sanctions law doesn’t require any specific time frame or specific sanctions so there’s effectively no violation of the law —- the only specific in the most recent House sanctions vote was “list of potential people” to sanction, which the Treasury provided to the House on time (before midnight) – the list provided by the Treasury was probably lifted directly from a Forbes list of Russian Billionaires it seems.
The House and Senate could impeach to get Trump to apply sanctions, but that’s not going to happen and everybody knows it. so in real life the “Law” is unenforceable. It’s more or less political grandstanding than anything else.
Furthermore the law Trump signed under which the House passed the new recent sanctions bill is probably outright unconstitutional anyway — separation of powers and the Executive having exclusive and specific Constitutional power in foreign affaires. And of course that’s precisely why Congress hasn’t pressed it either. .
This is nothing more than political rhetoric for public consumption which is all it boils down to. Nothing new here.
Congress tried to get Obama to impose harsher sanctions on Iran too, so there’s a mismatch between what Congress wants the President to do in foreign affaires and what the President wants to do — which has been the case since the founding of the nation.
I think Barkley’s point about the Russian gov’t bigwigs meeting in DC though is something to be concerned about though with what Trump is trying to do to cover for his “probable” illegal activities with the Russians regarding the election — e.g. Mueller’s investigation. Interesting that this “visit” didn’t get a lot more and wider press coverage — which only verifies that if “news” isn’t entertainment, it doesn’t get much press coverage.
There are a ton of laws passed and signed that have no real enforceability nor intent to enforce. They are political rhetoric for publc consumption only.
Shakespeare knew this long ago, about 1606 in fact. Nothing’s changed..
Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28
“This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I took a Shakespearian literature course in college. You might be surprised to find how much hasn’t changed in 400 years.
“The House and Senate could impeach to get Trump to apply sanctions, but that’s not going to happen and everybody knows it. so in real life the “Law” is unenforceable. It’s more or less political grandstanding than anything else.”
Now this is a valid point. Of course we as citizens can judge for ourselves whether the government should be imposing sanctions in this instance. One thing is clear – Trump sees the power of the White House as his personal toys and he is incredibly fond of Putin even if that fondness is harmful to the interest of the rest of us. Senator McCain made that very clear in his latest comments.
I found your commentary about the 3 Russian intel directors being in Washington DC very interesting.
I doubt that Russian intel directors travel anywhere without a prearranged agenda.
On 17 December 2017 the New York Times reported that “President Vladimir V. Putin called President Trump on Sunday to thank him for the work of the Central Intelligence Agency in helping prevent an Islamic State attack in the northern Russian city of St. Petersburg.”
That article quoted a Russian statement which said “The information received from the C.I.A. was sufficient to search for and detain criminals,” the statement said.
I would hazard a guess that Putin’s phone call and the 3 Russian intelligence agency directors travel to the US are related. That would hint of some sort of negotiation for sharing more information on Islamic terrorism.
You don’t see many surprises like this in the intelligence world.
I would imagine that terrorism was discussed some, but one spy chief would be sufficient to do that. Why does one need all three at nearly the same time? And it looks like Trump’s (non) action on the Congressionally mandated sanctions basically coincided with this visit. This does not look like a coincidence.
BTW, the visit we know about the last time, not even with whom he met, the one by GRU Chief General Korobov, which was almost certainly to somebody or other at the DOD, may well have dealt with North Korea. Given Trump’s noises about a “bloody nose” attack on the place, which does have a border with Russia, is certainly a matter of concern for the Russians, and I can imagine they would prefer to have their serious comments on it kept as quiet as possible. So, maybe having those other guys more publicly talking to Pompeo at CIA is at least partly a distraction from the much more serious matter of trying to rein in Trump from attacking North Korea, but who knows?
I hear you but the Russian government would communicate their concerns about our threats through their ambassador to the US.
If this visit is not about sharing intelligence then it is a public relations tour.
That would not be insignificant given the problems brought on by Russia’s desire to hold on to their naval installations in Crimea and their continuing efforts to acquire a land supply route to that peninsula.
Russia probably did not expect the reaction that it got from the west. After all Crimea had been Russian territory since 1783.
The situation had been complicated by Ukraine’s diversion of Russian natural gas from a pipeline used to supply gas to Europe, Ukraine’s demand for higher transit fees for the pipeline gas, and Ukrainian debt owed for the purchase of Russian gas. And a new treaty in 2010 required Russia to provide more discounted gas to Ukraine in exchange for the lease of the Crimean naval installations.
What was Russia to do about a neighbor which did not honor its agreements or pay its debts? Probably not much if those naval installations on Crimea had not been in play.
The Russian government cares much more about its own defense than it does for North Korea.
In normal times you would be right that Russia would use its ambassadot to go through the SecState. But these are not normal times, and this is far from a normal situation. This is a matter of potential nuclear war, and I increasingly suspect that GRU chief Korobov was meeting secretly with SedDef “Mad Dog” Mattis, the Adult In The Room, to discuss very serious military options in case of war in North Korea, with the other visits not a “public relations tour,” but at least partly a public distraction. About the only good thing on this is that probably nobody is going to start anything during the Winter Olympics in Korea with the North participating in the South.
Of course the annexation of Crimea happened during the last Winter Olympics, at least partly due to Putin’s pique that westerners were not respecting his discrimination against gays and other ego puffing at the time as host in Sochi of them. Your claim that this was about natural gas payments is a third rate Russian troll bot joke. Countries have not annexed neighbors over such matters in well over a century. The other argument that Russia used to rule Crimea is another matter, but what Putin did was against international law. The Crimeans voted to be part of Ukraine when it became independent in 1991.
The more serious matter is that some of what was discussed in some of the meetings, especially given the time proximity to Trump’s decision to ignore Congress and not impose further sanctions while issuing a meaningless list of Russian billionaires and top officials is that he is essentially a bought and paid for Russian agent. This is a major item in the Steele dossiet that Trump and Nunes have been trying to discredit, and is reportedly what sent Steele to take his findings to the FBI in the first place. We are back to that old item that people have simply given up on demanding, although it is outrageous that Trump has not done so, the question of him releasing his tax returns like even Richard Nixon did. Pretty obviously what he is hiding is the evidence of hoe deeply in hock to the Russians he is, so much so he must obey a demand from them not to put on any further sanctions, even if he is constrainied from removing those in place as he promised to do earlier.
“The other argument that Russia used to rule Crimea is another matter, but what Putin did was against international law.”
Of course, that is exactly their problem.
Somehow they failed to understand the gravity of what they were about to do. Apparently they thought that since Crimea had been a Russian territory before, the west would ignore their annexation.
What the west saw was that Russia was seizing part of the territory of a sovereign country.
I believe that Russia miscalculated because those naval installations on Crimea were dear to them and they still are. And I believe that they intend to keep their naval base in Tartus, Syria too.
Now Russia can not bring itself to undo what they have done with Crimea. So they will face increased sanctions.
There are still sanctions on Russia and they can be increased at any time.
I do not understand your concern about a nuclear war over North Korea.They have developed or are completing development of a nuclear weapon system which they can not use. If they use just one, they will become a pariah nation. I believe that any retaliation against them would come with conventional weapons.
The North Korean nuclear problem has always been about nuclear proliferation.
We have a difference of opinion.
Have a good day.
Ukraine had granted Russia permanent access to their base at Sevastopol, and no Ukrainian government would have ever dared challenge that. To the extent Putin has used such a fear as an excuse for his annexation, it is ridiculous.
Regarding North Korea, the current problem is not NK starting a nuclear war, it is Trump’s apparently seriously contemplating a “bloody nose” attack on NK, which could push them to using their arsenal in self-defense. I increasingly think that was the main topic of discussion by GRU Chief Korobov with whomever he met at DOD.
What is permanent in this world?
“Yanukovych’s decision reverses the policy of his predecessor, who had vowed to expel the Russian fleet in 2017, when its current lease expires, and is the strongest sign yet that he will bring Ukraine closer to Russia after a five-year tilt toward the West.”
Also in that article is this quote from Medvedev:
“”The spoon is dear when lunchtime is near,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency, adding that the discount would amount to $40 billion in much-needed funds over the next decade.”
There was no permanent right to those naval installations, there was a lease. A lease that had cost about $97million per year until 2010 and then was much higher.
Then in 2014 Yanukovych fled to Moscow. That must have left the Russian government more than a little concerned that the government of Ukraine might swing back toward the west.
But that did not give Russia the right to seize the territory of a sovereign nation either.
There was no way Ukraine was going to push the Russians out. They may have wanted to get more money for the lease, given their much troubled economy. But there was no way they could get the Russians to leave if they tried to make them. Was the US gong to step in and help them? No.
In any case such demands for more payment were not grounds for annexing Crimea.
The big joke is that while saving money may have been part of their motivations, it ha not worked out well. It has come to be known that the Putin crowd had been planning this for some time, with some his crony oligarchs looking at making lots of money in various tourism schemes. But all that has gone to nought, given the sanctions, which they were foolish not to anticipate. Also, they have been facing lots of costs of running it, including building a bridge, given they cannot go through the one land connection, which is to Ukraine. Also they are paying pensions to all the older Crimeans, with the fact that those are more than what Ukraine was paying a major source of support among older Russian speakers in Crimea for joining Russia.
Irony is that some of those running the rebel republics in eastern Ukraine would like to be annexed, but Russia has lost interest, with all the costs of running Crimea with no return for it a major reason.
“But that did not give Russia the right to seize the territory of a sovereign nation either.”
reveals that there is no “right” or “wrong” among humans. “Right” what works, and “wrong” that which doesn’t. Both are decided only after the fact. … that which was “right” is decided by the victor.
We like to talk about what’s right and wrong before the fact, even spending billions of dollars in propaganda to promote which is right and which is wrong. But talk is cheap. Unless it’s marked to reality it has no bearing.
The reality is that what’s “right” serves somebody’s interests, and what’s “wrong” is adverse to somebody’s interests. In the final analysis, temporary as “final” always is, it’s decided by using “might”.
Oh, Longtooth, there are all kinds of systems of right and wrong among humans, even if these hold less clearly among nations.
However, I would say that there is at least the form of an international code of conduct among nations, based on many treaties and organizations built up over a long period of time, arguably since at least the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the Thirty Years War in Europe, when the various nations essentially agreed to recognize each other’s sovereignty to some degree.
The horrendous destruction and death in World War II, along with the development of nuclear weapons, engendered another round of this that has held to a considerable degree since 1945 as embodied in treaties and agreements surrounding the United Nations, even as these have been violated from time to time. But these violations have been surprisingly rare, even as we have had many wars since. But they have mostly not taken the form of one nation invading another in an overt aggression to take it over and annex it. More common has been nations falling into pieces, or having one group in an existing nation take over from another, with no or little change in national boundaries.
Of course the question of Crimea is complicated, especially given that Ukraine, or most of it, was ruled by Russia for several centuries prior to recent events. During the Soviet period Crimea was initially part of the Russian republic, being given to the Ukrainian republic by Khrushchev in 1954. The population was (and is) very ethnically diverse and mixed. As of the end of the USSR in 1991, the population voted by a not overwhelming 54% to remain part of Ukraine, but poor economic performance in Ukraine increased support for rejoining Russia.
Nevertheless, Russia’s annexation of Crimea clearly violated longstanding rules of international order that have held among the higher income nations since the end of WW II. Putin should know this, and that his actions threatened global order, irrespective of what one thinks about ultimate right or wrong involved in the matter. Probably Russia will maintain control of Crimea and at some point the annexation may come to be accepted. But this will not happen while Putin is in power as he will continue to be punished for his clear violation of international rules. This sort of action encourages a dangerous degeneration that is fed by extreme nationalists in many nations and which can lead o broader international war, including possibly of the nuclear variety, exactly what those leaders and diplomats sought to prevent after the slaughters and catastrophes of WW II.