Clear and Present Danger

Over the last few months, I have deliberately scaled back commentaries about our current president: his narcissism; his ego; his blatant dishonesty; his more than 2,000 conflicts of interest; his insistence that he knows more than anyone else; his obsessively cozy relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin; his “love” letters from North Korea’s Kim Jung- un; his “firings” of administration officials – like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – by Twitter.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the clear warning signs of authoritarianism in his administration. His most recent actions are yet additional proof.

After Trump insisted that he was right in warning that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tweeted what amounted to a reversal in its claims regarding Alabama. A media report said that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross threatened NOAA’s top staff with firings if they did not align themselves with the president’s inaccurate statement about Alabama.  This is frightening on many levels, most notably to the good people in Alabama many of whom raised concerns about their welfare.

In a story first reported by The New York Times (Sept. 9), Ross “threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

“That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, disavowing the National Weather Service’s position that Alabama was not at risk. The reversal caused widespread anger within the agency and drew accusations from the scientific community that the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, had been bent to political purposes.”

While a spokesman for Ross said that the secretary did not threaten firings at NOAA, a follow-up question asking if he had a conversation with anyone at NOAA went unanswered.

“Craig N. McLean, NOAA’s acting chief scientist,” The Times reported, “sent an email to staff members Monday notifying the agency that he was looking into ‘potential violations’ in the agency’s decision to ultimately back Mr. Trump’s statements rather than those of its own scientists. He called the agency’s action “a danger to public health and safety.”

In a more serious matter, CNN National Security reporter Jim Sciutto, backed by five sources, said that a high-level U.S. intelligence asset was removed from the Kremlin due to President Trump and Administration officials mishandling of intelligence.

“In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017,” Sciutto writes, “the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN.

“A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

“The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel. …

“The source,” Sciutto continues, “was considered the highest level source for the US inside the Kremlin, high up in the national security infrastructure, according to the source familiar with the matter and a former senior intelligence official.

“According to CNN’s sources, the spy had access to Putin and could even provide images of documents on the Russian leader’s desk.”

Since taking office, President Trump’s repeated statements about his lack of trust in U.S. intelligence point to two possible conclusions: Russia’s Putin has damaging information on Trump, or Trump does not want to take any action that could possibly affect future business dealings with Russia.

In either case, Trump’s benevolent remarks about Putin demonstrate that Trump consistently places his own interests ahead of the country.

Nonetheless, his political pressure brought to bear on NOAA, and his mishandling of intelligence now present a clear and present danger to our democracy.

This is not a republican or democratic issue. This is a national security issue.

These facts should cause Trump supporters to pause and seriously rethink backing a man who is not only manifestly dishonest, but morally incapable of  listening to the advice of experts regarding science-based weather reports, or worse, heeding our nation’s security advisors who have, for decades, placed our national security ahead of politics.

Despite touting his own deal-making skills, the reality is Trump has failed to negotiate with North Korea on nuclear disarmament; he has failed to deliver a new deal with Iran and nuclear arms; he has failed to deliver a trade deal with China – which is already impacting U.S. farming; and while a deal to replace NAFTA, known as the USMCA, has been signed, it has not been passed by Congress.

Adding to an already chaotic administration, National Security Chief John Bolton resigned (or fired, depending on whose version of the truth you believe), which leaves the country not only vulnerable to enemies who might take advantage of the gap in leadership, but leaves decision-making to a man who claims, “…I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

If the president of the United States cannot be trusted on consequential security matters, how long will Republican leadership in Congress continue to turn a blind eye to the serious threat this man poses?

And what will be the consequence of that blindness for the country?

Update: Early this morning it was revealed that the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney contacted Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, telling him to “…publicly correct the forecasters, who had insisted that Alabama was not actually at risk from Hurricane Dorian.”

As reported by The New York Times, “After Mr. Trump told his staff on Sept. 5 to address the matter, Mr. Mulvaney called Mr. Ross, who was in Greece traveling for meetings. Mr. Ross then called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, at home around 3 a.m. on Friday morning Washington time and instructed him to clear up the agency’s contradiction of the president, according to three people informed about the discussions.”

What will it take for Republican leadership to take action and when will that happen?

I will return on Monday.

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