14th Feb — investigations, or not.
Off the back of Flynn’s resignation (which has also been reported as a firing, and — in the Russian media — his retirement) a couple of senior Republicans are now calling for an independent investigation into Russian involvement with the Trump campaign and administration. If they have any sense, they’ll grant this. The allegations have reached the point where the administration has little to no credibility in the international sphere. Any positive move towards Russia at all at this point would be political suicide, which is an extremely dangerous place to be. A policy of either paralysed neutrality or relentless negativity towards Russian would be swiftly exploited. An investigation would at least allow Trump to park this for next few weeks.
Of course, that doesn’t seem to be the agenda. Trump has been taking swings at the intelligence services (specifically the NSA and FBI) and accusing his staff of “illegal leaking”. His spin at this point is that this is all the result of his actions to reduce and remove bureaucracy from Washington. It’s not such a bad line, but it’s hard to see anyone being seriously taken in by the idea that a sitting president is being undermined systematically over unpopular budgeting and staffing policy.
Conway is looking increasingly excluded and out-of-step. She was questioned over the Washington Post’s allegation that Trump had been briefed on Flynn’s difficulties by the DoJ nearly a month ago, and all she came back with was that she had no response, the allegations were made assuming that the information was true. She wasn’t able to provide any sort of convincing timeline over why Trump had waited this long to get rid of Flynn or whether the Post’s sources would be unreliable. She tweeted about “serving at the pleasure of the president” and his message being her message, but it came off sounding weirdly like she was hypnotised or the member of a cult. Very strange stuff, and very different from her normal self-aggrandising or accusatory tactics.
The administration was described earlier as “leaking like a sinking ship”, which is an allusion I am sure Trump will not take kindly to. He is apparently ranting about suing his own staff, although apparently Mike Pence is doing a decent job of holding the line and coming up with press strategy. It is all very strange indeed. That said, this isn’t going to come to an end any time soon.
Trump’s defence chief Mattis has been giving a speech to other heads at NATO. He’s saying that the members need to pay their way and commit to 2% of GDP on defense spending. Those are, after all, the terms they signed up to. He’s announced that unless other nations do this the US will have to scale back his involvement and operations. It’s hard not to have sympathy for this position — this is supposed to be an alliance, not the Pax Americana gang, and even if the US will always be the senior partner, there needs to be quid pro quo. It’s tempting to weave this into the Russia scenario — a plot to scare and undermine NATO, but it seems more in keeping with the idea of America First. Trump wanting to prioritise US money and US lives in support of the US. At least Mattis seems to be his own man, and to know what he’s talking about.
The Malaysians have arrested a woman suspected of killing Kim Jon Nam. Apparently it happened at Kuala Lumpur airport, and there are conflicting reports of suffocation, chemical sprays, and injections. It’s all very cold war. The Malaysians say there’s not enough evidence yet that this was a covert assassination by North Korea, but that it’s possible. Apparently this fits with their methodologies, although how anyone knows what North Korea’s preferred methods of political assassination on foreign soil are is frankly puzzling. If this is a North Korean operation then Kim Jong Il is really extending his reach. Possibly he doesn’t take Trump seriously either.