The Rex Tillerson Senate Hearing and Donald Trump

Too much news coming too fast to deal with in a post other than to do so impressionistically, which means I might regret something I say.   So be it.  The alternative is for me to not post at all.  I see an avalanche of Trump news forming this week, so I have to act fast.

Today two big events, Donald Trump’s first press conference since elected and, simultaneously, a senate hearing for Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, who is nominated for Secretary of State.   The Tillerson hearing seems more significant and more interesting.   The guy is impressive, so much so I thought at times:  Too bad we can’t make him president.

The hearing was impressive, too, with better questions asked than I usually see at such events.  In other words, questions from both sides of the aisle were tough and seemed fair, with not much pressing of either party agenda.   Though the general tenor was that our foreign policy under Obama has made us weaker on the world stage.

Tillerson’s diplomatic skill showed when he talked about a lessoning of American prestige world wide over the last couple of decades (meaning he was not only blaming Obama but G. W. Bush, too).

Also, when pressed by Marco Rubio to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal, Tillerson asserted he could not say without access to secret intelligence.  Rubio cited a number of public instances indicating that in fact Putin is a war criminal, but Tillerson held his position.

Many would think that a bad thing, but if we want a working relationship with Vladimir Putin, we can’t begin by publicly labelling him a war criminal, even if we believe he is.  Need I remind anyone that we did not trash Joe Stallin when he was a key alley during World War II, and he was responsible for mass murders in Russia.

A common theme during the hearing was the tricky issue of responding to Russian aggression while also recognizing that there are areas that are  in our interest to cooperate.   Even if we might have a Jekyl and Hyde relationship with Putin, that’s the way it is and both nations have enough nuclear arms to destroy the world several times over.

A new year’s resolution is to get back to shorter posts, so I’ll only say this about the Trump press conference.   One point in Trump’s favor was his denouncing a dubious two page memo that asserts Russia has information on Trump that could be black mail material.    I saw reports on CNN and MSNBC which I hope they regret, as the information is unverified by any substantial source.   In fact, those cable stations kept reminding us the report was unverified, so I would ask:  If it is unverified then why do you keep talking about it?

Ah, what’s sensational grabs attention?

On the other hand, Trump overplayed his hand (as usual) by angrily denouncing the fact that  “information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.”

Oh my, how terrible!   This from the guy who for years kept spreading false information about Barack Obama’s birth place.   Citing his investigators who had raised serious questions about Obama’s birth, while never revealing who they were or what evidence they found.

And this guy is going to talk about “false and fake”?

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Donald Trump, the Phony Fan of Our Intelligence Agencies

The Donald Show continues to keep us guessing, which is the biggest reason the show remains hot.  Unpredictable is interesting, maybe scary or sickening at times, but interesting.  Today’s guessing game centers around a meeting Trump will have  with top intelligence officials to discuss Russian hacking during the election.

The case has been floated in the news often in recent weeks, raising questions as to both the intentions and success of Russia’s actions in interfering with the election.   Trump has not welcomed either angle, especially the part that raises doubts about the legitimacy of his win and, as usual, when he feels diminished in any way, he comes out swinging, or throwing.

He has disparaged those intelligence agencies in tweets and other statements, even going to the extent of citing Julian Assange for support, though he denied that yesterday as I will get to later.  When battling, Trump will grab anything to throw at you (and often later deny that’s what he did or meant).

Despite several previous statements to the contrary Trumped tweeted yesterday he “is a big fan of intelligence”.   The intelligence community doesn’t believe that, as James Clapper, Director of Intelligence made clear at an open hearing in the Senate yesterday.   He said that while skepticism of intelligence results is warranted, “I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”  And there was no question who he thought was disparaging them, the same guy they are meeting with in Trump Tower today.

This intelligence team is not likely to pull any punches, especially since they are all about to leave office, so the media buzz revolves around how contentious the meeting might become:   Will Donald Trump deny their findings or accept them?

I think he will likely accept them for the most part and even praise those agencies in the process because to dismiss those findings, once seeing secret information, would be to put him at odds with Republicans he needs help from.

First of all the meeting won’t be all that contentious because Trump has a history of vile attacks at a distance in public, while congenial with the same people in private.  At meeting’s end Trump will announce he has been convinced that Russia did try to interfere with the election, but did not succeed in tipping it (since Clapper has already stated the intelligence agencies have made no conclusion on that, so there is no knowing, just lots of opinions).   Trump will then make a show of the respect he has long held for the intelligence agencies and what a serious matter the hacking is, and might even talk tough, but he won’t do much about it right now

He has boxed himself in here.  The Russian hacking evidence interferes with his apparent desire to be more cozy with Russia by riling up the likes of Republican senators McCain and Graham, the latter having talked about Obama’s response as “throwing pebbles” while Graham wants to throw “rocks” at the Russians.  Those senators likely will push for a stronger reaction, something Trump will have to deal with later.

Right now his biggest consideration is getting  Rex Tillerson, the Exon Mobil chief, confirmed for Secretary of State.  Both a pro and con with Tillerson is that he has worked out various energy deals with Putin over the years, so he knows him well, but maybe too well, too close, too friendly to many who think of Putin as a thug and a virtual dictator.

It would only take a few Republican senators to stop Tillerson’s nomination, so I predict we will see less of the tweeting teen-ager on the attack, and more the conciliator for a few days at least.

By the way, what gives me some confidence in my predictions is this tweet from Trump yesterday, in which he clearly has begun to reverse his story about the dubious intelligence services.  Of course he never thought that way.  It was the dishonest media that made it seem so.

“The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people…. to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against “Intelligence” when in fact I am a big fan!”

Thank you for clarifying that misunderstanding Mr. Trump.  Now excuse me as I need to refrain from upchucking all over my computer.