The risky game Mike Pompeo is playing with an ‘authoritarian president’

The Fix Analysis

Some intriguing new information about Mike Pompeo and the deft but dangerous game he is playing with an unhinged president.~blog editor

By Aaron BlakeAugust 19 at 1:37 PM

The New Yorker@NewYorker

A 2016 video obtained by @sbg1 shows Mike Pompeo warning Kansas voters that Donald Trump—like Barack Obama—would be “an authoritarian President who ignored our Constitution.” Read Susan Glasser’s new Profile of the Secretary of State: 2,1017:10 AM – Aug 19, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy1,682 people are talking about this

The New Yorker’s big new profile of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is getting buzz for two reasons: 1) the newly discovered video above, in which a 2016 Pompeo warns that President Trump would be “an authoritarian President who ignored our Constitution,” and 2) an anonymous quote that describes the modern-day Pompeo as “like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass.”

But focusing on those two quotes does the piece and its author, Susan Glasser, a disservice. Around those two narrative-building elements is a nuanced, thoughtful piece about the game Pompeo is playing with Trump. And as someone who has regularly spotlighted Pompeo’s sycophancy and willingness to pretend for Trump that up is down, I think it raises important questions.

Throughout the piece, Pompeo is described not as a hapless yes-man but, instead, as one of the smartest members of the president’s inner circle. He’s painted as a man so adept at playing “the Game” that he has navigated his own past comments about Trump and a worldview that departs from Trump’s in significant ways to become the president’s longest-lasting and perhaps most influential national security aide.How to provoke the ire of Mike PompeoWhen asked about something President Trump said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is prone to belittle the questioner rather than answer the original question. (Video: JM Rieger/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Even critics praise his remarkable political skills.

“Pompeo’s singular ability is in navigating power,” says Raj Goyle, the Democrat he beat for his Kansas U.S. House seat in 2010 — and against whom Pompeo ran a nasty race. “On that I give him massive respect: the way he mapped Wichita power, the way he mapped D.C. power, the way he mapped Trump.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) calls Pompeo “very bright, very politically shrewd,” “with a certain pugnacious quality to his persona.” Foreign policy analyst Ian Bremmer says Pompeo has “in a sense become the real adult in the room. It is less the case than he would like, but vastly more the case than anyone else.”

The dilemma raised by Pompeo is a familiar one in Trumpworld, but it’s perhaps most pronounced — and consequential — in his case: What is the balance between serving Trump, managing him and enabling him?

It’s a balance we dealt with after that New York Times op-ed by a still-unnamed senior administration official, whom some critics said should have resigned rather than trying to, in the author’s estimation, salvage a bad situation from the inside. It’s one that’s even more important today, as internal critics are pushed out and the pool of replacements inevitably veers toward yes-men and -women (because, after all, who else would want to put up with all that?).

And perhaps the defining moment in that evolution, as Glasser notes, was Trump’s hastily announced Syria withdrawal. That was the moment at which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — perhaps the most respected man in the administration — finally cut bait. It was also a highly symbolic moment for Pompeo, who in contrast with Mattis defended a decision he disagreed with.

Glasser puts it well in the piece’s penultimate paragraph:

This behavior is the reason that Pompeo has succeeded in becoming the lone survivor of Trump’s original national-security team. At the start of his Administration, the President had bragged about “my generals.” But, now that he has pushed out the actual generals who served as his chief of staff, his national-security adviser, and his Defense Secretary, it seems clear that Trump was uncomfortable with such leaders, and rejected their habits of command and independent thinking.

Then Glasser adds, “He wanted a Mike Pompeo, not a Jim Mattis, a captain trained to follow orders, not a general used to giving them.”

Beautifully put. But as with everyone in politics, we shouldn’t just admire someone because they’re good at playing a difficult game; we should ask what they get out of it. If Pompeo is doing this because of raw ambition — because he wants to be president or something like that — he’s playing a dangerous game as the nation’s top diplomat. If he’s doing it because he feels he can keep righting what has become an increasingly rickety foreign policy ship, then that could be seen as even admirable — especially given that he’s often lighting his own credibility on fire.

The Syria withdrawal is perhaps an example of when that approach can and does work. Despite Mattis resigning over it, Trump later backed off his initial decision to withdraw completely. Pompeo got something he wanted — albeit long after all eyes were trained on the internal drama of it all — by using the kid-gloves approach.

On the flip side, though, Trump is rewriting the rules of the presidency in precisely some of the ways Pompeo warned about. Trump has warmed to authoritarians and authoritarianism, similar to Pompeo’s warnings. Shortly before becoming Trump’s pick for CIA director, Pompeo tweeted that Trump should “make the undemocratic practice of executive orders a thing of the past;” Trump has instead taken it to new heights. The secretary of state who once assured that soldiers “don’t swear an allegiance to President Trump or any other President; they take an oath to defend our Constitution” has shown an almost-unmatched allegiance to Trump.

Some in the foreign policy establishment apparently want to believe it could all be for the best — that Pompeo can, on balance, be a force for good. But we’ve seen their hopes dashed when it comes to another man in whom they invested some wishful thinking, Attorney General William P. Barr.

Pompeo might be the other most consequential man in Trump’s Cabinet. And the narrative of his tenure is very much up in the air — and dependent upon the man he once derided as a dangerous commander in chief.ADVERTISING 57 Comments

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Aaron BlakeAaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Follow 

Tom Steyer spends more than $7 million on ads in first month, hammers early primary states



One reader responded argued Steyer’s spending millions could better be devoted to funding Democrat Senate Campaigns!

Tom Steyer spends more than $7 million on ads in first month, hammers early primary states

CHARLESTON, SC – DECEMBER 04: Anti-Trump Billionaire Tom Steyer hosts a town hall meeting on December 4, 2018 in Charleston, South Carolina. Steyer, founder of NextGen America and Need to Impeach, is testing the waters for a 2020 presidential run. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Tom Steyer (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)In the month since Tom Steyer jumped into the Democratic presidential field with a promise to spend $100 million on his own campaign, the billionaire activist and former hedge fund manager has made his name known across early primary states with millions in ad buys.

But it remains to be seen whether Steyer, a major Democratic donor who made headlines in recent years for his calls to impeach President Donald Trump, can convert name recognition into a spot on the Democratic debate stage in September and a viable campaign in the long run.

The Steyer campaign has spent more than $7 million on TV and digital ads during its first month, according to data provided by social media companies and an analysis of Federal Communications Commission filings available in the OpenSecrets political ad database.

OpenSecrets identified more than $3.7 million in TV ad buys on more than 12,000 spots across the first four primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Steyer began running ads on July 10, the day after his campaign launched.

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The TV spots touch on Steyer’s business acumen, philanthropic work and activism on climate change, as well as his efforts to oust Trump.

“Donald Trump failed as a businessman,” Steyer says in one ad, citing a New York Times investigationinto the president’s business losses during the late 1980s. “I started a tiny investment business and over 27 years grew it successfully to $36 billion.”

The ad blitz appears to have worked on some voters. Steyer, who is visiting Iowa for the first time on Friday, has already hit at least 2 percent in three qualifying polls, just one short of the polling requirement for the September debates. That puts him ahead of several more conventional candidates, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Govs. Jay InsleeSteve Bullock and John Hickenlooper.

Of the three polls in which Tom Steyer has achieved at least 2 percent, two were conducted in Iowa while one was conducted in South Carolina. He has yet to hit 2 percent in any national polls.

Still elusive for Steyer is the requirement of 130,000 unique donors, the Democratic National Committee’s marker of grassroots support. Campaigns have until Aug. 28 to reach the threshold. The Steyer campaign has not said how many donors it has so far.

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To attract new donors, Steyer’s digital ads target voters across the country and ask for contributions of just $1. During its first month, the campaign spent about $3.5 million on digital ads: $2.6 million on Facebook, nearly $700,000 on Google and more than $200,000 on Twitter. These totals are unprecedented, even as presidential candidates across the board have increased digital spending in order to attract small-dollar donors.

Steyer’s digital campaign presence builds off his activism through political groups he previously funded out of his own pocket, such as NextGen Climate Action and Need to Impeach, a super PAC targeting his now-opponent Donald Trump.

Prior to Steyer’s official announcement of his candidacy in July, Need to Impeach spent more than $4.4 million on ads promoting the “Tom Steyer” Facebook page, which is now used by his campaign. After Steyer threw his hat in the ring, ads on the page switched from being paid for by Need to Impeach or his personal funds to being paid for by his 2020 campaign.

Steyer’s 458,000 likes on Facebook already put him ahead of many better-known candidates including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And big spending on digital ads allows the billionaire activist to continue to grow his audience. His campaign’s digital ad spending totals during its first month are more than double those of any other Democrat during the same period.

When comparing total spending on digital advertising, Steyer trails only the three candidates who are leading most polls: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Warren and Sanders officially launched their campaigns in February, while Biden declared in April.

Steyer’s spending on TV advertising, meanwhile, far outpaces other Democratic candidates, who have generally focused on building their ground games in early primary states rather than running TV ads.

Among the top five candidates in terms of polling, only Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has run TV ads so far. Her campaign’s first ad, a 1-minute spot titled “3 a.m. agenda,” hit the airwaves in Iowa this week.

Gillibrand, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) have also devoted resources to TV ads. Gabbard has passed the donor threshold to qualify for September but still needs three more polls. Delaney and Gillibrand have yet to reach either benchmark.

While some candidates might be forced to drop out if they do not qualify for the September debate stage, Tom Steyer has plenty of resources to continue running ads and pick up new donors. The DNC will host another debate in October.

Sign if you agree: “Thoughts and prayers” are not enough. We need action

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El Paso. Dayton. Gilroy. Santa Fe, TX. Parkland. Sutherland Springs. Las Vegas. Sandy Hook. Columbine. Aurora. Virginia Tech.

At the time of this writing, there have been 250 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2019. That’s more than one per day. And gun violence in all its forms collectively takes the lives of more than 100 people per day.

Republican members of Congress respond to gun tragedies while they’re in the news. But, they don’t take responsibility for how their words and actions — and strategic inaction — allow for white supremacist terror and gun violence, nor do they take action to prevent these tragedies from happening again. Instead, they offer up fleeting sentiments or red herring explanations.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 25 times higher than that of other developed countries. States with more guns have more deaths, and states where it’s harder to get guns have fewer gun-related deaths. Gun safety laws work.

The Democratic-govern House has already passed two pieces of legislation addressing gun violence. Mitch McConnell has refused to bring them up to a vote in the Senate. 

Every day Congress refuses to take action, they choose this fate for our children, our communities, and this country. Thoughts and prayers cannot replace action. For this epidemic to end, Congress must intervene. 

Join us in demanding Congress, and Trump sign, research-backed gun safety policies including requiring background checks on all gun sales, and supporting a strong Red Flag law that will help prevent gun violence tragedies.

Add your name: Keep your thoughts and prayers. Take action to reduce gun violence.


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Look at the Mueller Report as a Detective Story. It Will Blow Your Mind.

An important read!

SUBSCRIBE NOWLOG INOPINION|Look at the Mueller Report as a Detective Story. It Will Blow Your Mind.

Look at the Mueller Report as a Detective Story. It Will Blow Your Mind.

It may turn out to be a film noir. The investigators uncovered the plot, but the society is too rotten to do anything about it.

By Quinta Jurecic

Ms. Jurecic is the managing editor of Lawfare.Aug. 2, 2019

CreditCreditOwen Freeman

When the Mueller report was released, commentators reviewed it not only as a political and legal work but also as another genre: literature. In The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada described the report as “the best book by far on the workings of the Trump presidency.” Michiko Kakutani wrote in The Columbia Journalism Review that it held “the visceral drama of a detective novel, spy thriller, or legal procedural.” Laura Miller of Slate found it to be a work of “palace intrigues.”

Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill was subjected to theater reviews, too: Political reporters speculated on the “optics” of his appearance, while President Trump declared, “This was one of the worst performances in the history of our country.”

The theatrical focus is a little much. But the literary critics are onto something. The report tells what is probably one of the biggest stories of our lifetimes — and understanding that narrative as a narrative can help make sense of the confused political moment.

Exploring the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the writer Don DeLillo described in his novel “Libra” the endless work of sleuthing new information on the president’s death as an effort to draft the “book of America” — the novel “in which nothing is left out.” The same might be said of the Mueller report.

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The first half of the report — on efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election — is a spy thriller, a high-stakes caper with greed, dirty deals and intrigue straight out of a Cold War potboiler. The second half — on President Trump’s efforts to obstruct Mr. Mueller’s investigation — is a Shakespearean drama about deception and power. But at its core, the 448-page volume is a detective story.

Like most good detective stories, the report actually tells two stories at once. First, there is the tale of what happened: The Russian government worked to reach out to Mr. Trump’s circle and, once he began running for president, his campaign; then, when the F.B.I. and later Mr. Mueller began investigating, Mr. Trump repeatedly sought to undercut the probe.

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But nestled in the citations and prosecution or declination decisions for each section, there is the second story, which is closer to what most people think of when they think of a detective novel — the drama of how Mr. Mueller and his team came to uncover that first narrative and what they made of it. Examining footnotes, the reader can trace which information came from which witness — and discover, for example, that Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, provided Mr. Mueller’s office with hours of interviews about the conduct of the president.

Detective stories are usually about order and the collapse of order: The world is shattered by an act of violence, and the detective sets about making things right by turning the crime into something that can be explained. As Ms. Kakutani writes, “At the end of detective stories, order is usually restored with the solving of a crime, and with the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators.”

The Mueller report does provide a framework for understanding just what has happened to America in 2016 and the years since.

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More than a tale about the restoration of order, though, the Mueller investigation is also about the limits of what can be known. Consider, for example, what the report says about Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s erstwhile campaign chairman. Mr. Manafort, writes Mr. Mueller, shared polling data produced by the campaign with a man known very likely to be connected to Russian military intelligence. The subplot is full of possibility, but it ends up leading nowhere. Mr. Mueller writes that his office “could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose” in sharing the information, in part because Mr. Manafort and his colleagues used encrypted messaging to communicate with one another.

Or there’s the question of what Mr. Trump knew or didn’t know about his campaign’s communications with individuals linked to the Russian government, and whether he was truthful in his written answers.

In this, the Mueller report fits neatly into a subgenre known as the “metaphysical detective story” — stories that take Sherlock Holmes’s triumphant cracking of the case and turn it upside down, so the detective’s efforts end in the same disorder with which they began. These are mysteries about the impossibility of ever really solving a mystery, or perhaps of knowing anything at all.

The uncertainties that hover around the Mueller report evoke similar themes. How much can be known about what Donald Trump had in mind when he fired James Comey? Was Mr. Trump intent on stopping the Russia investigation, or was his goal to remove an F.B.I. director who irritated him for other reasons? Will the question of what Paul Manafort was up to remain forever unanswered, the information crucial to solving the puzzle lost? And if the full story of the Russia affair remains beyond the reach of explanation, to what extent does this cast doubt on the whole project of restoring order in the first place?

As in the metaphysical detective story, these factual gaps raise broader questions about the detective’s inability to reconstruct the story of the crime. Put crudely, this is the question of what it means that Robert Mueller can’t save the country. It’s how to understand the effect on the stability of American democracy of both the president’s relative impunity at the end of an investigation that strongly implied he may have committed serious crimes and the nation’s inability to come to grips with the fact of interference by a foreign power in an election.

Or to put it another way: Does anything matter?

Mr. Mueller clearly thinks it does. Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, he became most animated when he spoke about election interference: “I hope this is not the new normal,” he said, “but I fear it is.”

In this way, the Mueller report may turn out to be more of a film noir than anything else. The detective successfully uncovers the plot, only to discover that the society around him is too rotten to do anything about it. For all the missing pieces in this story, the issue is less whether it can be told and more whether anyone cares to listen.RelatedOpinion | Quinta Jurecic4 Disturbing Details You May Have Missed in the Mueller ReportJune 7, 2019

Quinta Jurecic (@qjurecic)is the managing editor of Lawfare.