Bannon to appear before Congress committee for Russia probe

Karen Freifeld, Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon will be interviewed next week by a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
The interview behind closed doors on Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee will focus on Bannon’s time on the campaign, not the transition or his time in the White House, the source said.

Bannon’s appearance comes as many Democrats worry that Trump’s fellow Republicans are seeking to stall or shut down congressional probes of Russia and the 2016 election. It gives investigators a chance to talk to someone who spent months as one of Trump’s closest advisers.

Although Bannon was fired from his White House position by Trump in August, he had been a close Trump associate since he joined the Trump campaign and helped the political novice defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.The two men had a public falling out this month after Bannon was quoted in author Michael Wolff’s controversial book on the Trump White House, “Fire and Fury,” as calling a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign by the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

Bannon’s comments in the book helped fuel calls for him to testify in Congress about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included a Russian lawyer and Trump associates, which has been a focus for investigators looking into Russia and the election.

Aides to the committee’s leaders declined comment. The intelligence panel’s practice is not to discuss specific witnesses or its schedule except for public hearings.

Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended a closed door interview with the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Separately, Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, told reporters on Thursday he would like “dozens” more witnesses, including Bannon, to appear before the committee, making clear he does not view the panel’s investigation of Russia and the election as near its end.

Some Republicans in Congress have been saying they expect the House Intelligence probe and other congressional investigations to wrap up quickly. Democrats have been disputing this, saying there is much work remaining to determine whether Russia attempted to influence the election on Trump’s behalf or whether Trump colluded.

Moscow denies trying to meddle, and Trump dismisses talk of collusion.

“There are still dozens of witnesses that we could bring in,” Schiff told reporters. “At a minimum we should set out all the facts for the public, and we can’t do that if we’re leaving a lot of investigative pathways uninvestigated,” he added.

Besides Bannon, Schiff said those witnesses would include Trump’s daughter Ivanka. He also said he would like Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to appear again before the committee.

Schiff noted that the choice of witnesses is determined by panel Republicans – who control the committee – some of whom he accused of trying to stall, or possibly shut down, the investigation, possibly to distract from the investigation of Trump.

Republicans deny this.

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“An Idiot Surrounded by Clowns”: Why Trump (Still) Sits in the White House

by Paul Street

Most of the media’s attention on journalist Michael Wolff’s “explosive” new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has focused on the disclosure that Trump’s former political strategist Steve Bannon used the words “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” to describe Donald Trump, Jr. and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner’s infamous June 2016 meeting with Russians claiming to possess damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Talking media heads are also agog over Bannon’s assertions that the Donald, Jr. certainly introduced his father to the Russians and that Trump is vulnerable on Russian money laundering through Deutsche Bank.

What really leaped out at me from The New York Times’ write-up on Wolff’s book, however, is the total contempt that Boss Tweet’s own associates and advisers have for him:

The book presents Mr. Trump as an ill-informed and thoroughly unserious candidate and president, engaged mainly in satisfying his own ego and presiding over a dysfunctional White House. It reports that early in the 2016 campaign, one aide, Sam Nunberg, was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. ‘I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,’ it quotes Mr. Nunberg as saying, ‘before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.’

The book … quotes an email from an unnamed White House aide offering a harsh assessment of Mr. Trump’s operation: ‘It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.’

The book also asserts that Mr. Trump’s advisers and associates deride him in private, calling him an ‘idiot,’ a ‘dope’ or ‘dumb’ as dirt. Thomas J. Barrack, a friend and adviser to Mr. Trump, was quoted telling a friend that the president is ‘not only crazy, he’s stupid’. (emphasis added).
“Stupid” may be putting it mildly. Recall the description of Trump that his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to disavow: “fucking moron.”

The disclosures come as the Insane Clown President has just taken his childish and reckless Twitter war with his opposite number Kim Jong-un to a new low by saying “my nuclear button is bigger than his – and it works.”

Nobody should be surprised by the “revelation” that Trump is a malignantly narcissistic “dotard” (Kim’s entertaining description) and dysfunctional “idiot.” That’s been clear to anyone who isn’t themselves a hopeless moron since the beginning of Trump’s political career, festooned with the ridiculous and racist charge that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

The real question is how an “idiot surrounded by clowns” got into the White House. The Democratic Party establishment wants people to think that Russia did it – a charge as moronic as Trump’s claim to have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal immigrant ballots.

The neo-McCarthyite Russiagate gambit is calculated to distract attention from the dismal, demobilizing, and dollar-drenched Democrats’ own responsibility for putting Trump in office by (a) making policy (under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) in cringing accord with the regressive, state-capitalist and corporate-globalist commands of Wall Street; (b) crushing progressive, social-democratic forces in their own party; and (c) mounting a horrific presidential campaign (Hillary 2016) that made numerous unforced errors, like failing to visit Wisconsin after the Democratic National Convention and calling (however accurately) half of Trump’s backers “deplorables.”

This is not to say that Trump deserves no credit for his victory.  Even the “fucking moron” and his clown team had the basic smarts to keep the evangelical Ted Cruz wing of the Republican electorate on board by granting significant influence and position (including the Vice Presidency) to the theocratic right. The pussy-grabbing reality-television real estate magnate from godless New York City would not have prevailed in the general election without that deft move.

At the same time, Trump won because of underlying historical and structural factors that are part and parcel of the onset of the long neoliberal era. Even an “idiot” like Trump was able to exploit the onset of corporate globalization, automation, increased international competition, austerity, extreme (New Gilded Age) wealth concentration, and accelerated plutocracy to promise economically squeezed voters a restoration of the vanished middle-class American Dream. His call to “Make America Great Again” resonated with mass white nostalgia for the long lost Golden Age (1945-1973) of unmatched U.S. economic prosperity.

The “dope” Trump benefitted from the depth and degree of the 2008-2009 financial collapse and recession and the weak, low-wage recovery that followed while Wall Street and corporate profits soared to obscene new heights with help from the Bush-Obama bailouts. The severe economic hit helped de-legitimize establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio last year.  It made the real presidential contest a race between a “populist” and “outsider” of “the left,” fueled by small donors– the progressive neo-New Dealer Bernie Sanders – and Trump, a self- and Mercer-financed billionaire “populist” and “outsider” of the right.

The corporate Democrats’ party structure held to prevent the nomination of Sanders, the left “populist,” who would likely have defeated Trump. By contrast, the corporate-Republicans’ party structured did not hold.  It crumbled before the Trump-Bannon challenge, which was unintentionally abetted by a corporate media that gave more attention to the Donald’s every insane Tweet and facial expression than it did to Sanders’ huge middle-class and anti-plutocratic rallies against “the billionaire class.”

The jackass president-to be was able to win white middle- and working-class votes by riding and playing/preying on the long-term scapegoating (nothing new, to say the least) of racial minorities and immigrants as the (false) cause of declining opportunity and income and growing inequality in the neoliberal era.

Agent Orange was further able to exploit the long-term neoliberal rise and spread of “small government” and “free market” ideology.  Trump mined the “anti-government” discourse to promote his “anti-establishment”/anti-Washington campaign even as he advanced a reactionary populist and white-nationalist critique of globalization and immigration.

The Dotard-in-Chief benefitted from the underlying, ever-sharpening partisan, racial, cultural, and ideological polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties, which guaranteed that Republicans voters would support Trump – not matter how offensive and idiotic he was – to block the presidential candidate (especially the widely loathed Hillary Clinton) of the hated Democrats.

Hair Furher also reaped a windfall from the spilling over of partisan polarization into crippling political and policy gridlock after the 2008 financial crisis, the election of the nation’s first Black president, the passage of Obama’s signature health insurance reform, and the rise of the Republican Tea Party.  Trump exploited public disgust with the resulting epic dysfunction of the paralyzed federal government by posing as a great outsider/savior who would “clean up the mess” and “drain the swamp.”

Along with all this, Trump benefitted from institutional factors that long predate the neoliberal era and trace to the U.S. Founders’ openly anti-democratic Constitution.  For the fifth time in United States history, the Founders’ Electoral College system allowed the installation of a president who didn’t win the majority vote in the quadrennial election.  Remarkably enough, the nation that proclaims itself the homeland and headquarters of global democracy does not elect its powerful chief executive on the elementary democratic principle of one person, one vote.  Like the Constitution’s scheme of Congressional representation in its upper chamber (the Senate), the charter’s Electoral College provision over-empowers the nation’s vast and disproportionately white, right-wing, and rural electorate relative to more liberal, progressive, multiracial, and urban voters

The Founders’ system of checks and balances between the legislature, executive, and judicial branches creates remarkable capacity for gridlock when the branches are held by different and intensely partisan political parties.  (The Founders’ it should be recalled, believed that they had created a political system that would prevent the rise of “factions” and parties and thus did not anticipate the kind of partisan checkmate that Trump was able to exploit last year.)

Along the way, the nation’s constitutional federalism gives its fifty states great leeway in crafting election laws as well as electoral districts.  Right-wing Republican state-level restrictions on Black, Latino, and “felon” voting rights played a key role in Trump’s victory.

And the Supreme Court’s repeated constitutionally super-empowered “wealth primary” rulings on behalf of abject campaign finance plutocracy (here progressives need to interrogate the 1976 Buckley-Valeo decision as well as the 2010 Citizens United judgment) have functioned to squash progressive alternatives to corporate control of U.S. politics in ways that Trump was able to exploit with his faux “populism” last year.

The dismal Dems want you to blame it all on Russia and James Comey when he was a bad guy (he became a good guy for the Democrats when he got fired by Trump for refusing to squash the FBI’s Russiagate investigation). The truth of the matter is that Russian “interference” was a very minor matter in relation to the forces and factor discussed above – forces and factors in which the Inauthentic Opposition Party (the late Sheldon Wolin’s incisive description of the Democrats) are deeply complicit and involved – in explaining the ascendancy of a dangerous “fucking moron” to the White House.

Now the U.S. and the world are saddled with a juvenile, stupid, pathologically narcissist POTUS who poses grave environmental and thermonuclear dangers to humanity. Thanks to the absurdly deified Constitution bequeathed to us by wealthy and anti-democratic aristo-republican slaveowners and merchant capitalists 228 years ago, it is hard to imagine him being removed from office except by death or (further) disability prior to January 20th, 2021.  We continue to be screwed by the Founding Fathers.  Hold on to your powdered wig.

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Bannon may run for president

Bannon may run for president
By Brent Budowsky, opinion contributor — 10/24/17 10:40 AM EDT 563The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Let us consider the unthinkable for liberal Democrats, principled conservatives and establishment Republicans: Is Stephen K. Bannon pursuing a hostile takeover of the Republican Party for the purpose of running for president to succeed President Trump?

Regarding the first part of the question, Bannon is undoubtedly trying to orchestrate a hostile takeover of the GOP, as Trump succeeded in orchestrating a hostile takeover of the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, through surges of voters in primaries supporting candidates who are neither classically conservative nor traditionally Republican.

A Bannon presidential candidacy could occur in 2020 if Trump leaves office before his term is concluded or if Trump decides for some reason to not run for a second term. A Bannon candidacy could occur in 2024 if Trump runs for a second term and is defeated, or if Trump is reelected and annoints Bannon as his successor. Bannon is doing everything a presidential candidate would do:

He is traveling around the country, cajoling ideological allies to run in primaries against traditional Republicans;
mobilizing an insurgent grass-roots challenge to the dazed Republican power structure;
attacking virtually every major Republican leader in Congress and the last Republican president;
building a network of mega-donors who write massive checks to elect Republicans they support or defeat Republicans they oppose; and
creating a substantial base of small donors.
Could Bannon ultimately be nominated as the GOP candidate for president? You bet he could. In the coming months, the political world will witness the first cannon fired in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination for 2020.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich continues to speak out forcefully against Trump and has reportedly begun meetings to discuss foreign policy and national security. Kasich could be the great challenger to Trump. If not Kasich, another prominent Republican will emerge; probably soon.

With Trump and Bannon waging a war for the political soul of the GOP, it is far from clear who will win the battle that is now unfolding. It is possible that Bannon-inspired challengers will be defeated in GOP primaries.

It is equally possible that the Bannon-inspired challengers will win these primaries, as the Alabama extremist Roy Moore won the recent nomination primary over the GOP establishment candidate for the Dec. 12 special election to fill the vacant Senate seat.

It is plausible that Bannon could win a future Republican presidential nomination. The Republican Party today has a serious intrinsic problem, with a potential base of primary voters who are far out of synch with the larger population of general election voters.

This creates a substantial danger for the GOP that the party could nominate candidates who are so extreme, after primary battles that are so bitterly divisive, that Democrats win huge victories in upcoming elections.

It is extraordinary to watch Bannon campaign around the country launching attacks against one Republican leader after another. He seeks to tear the GOP leadership down and replace it with Republicans who are more attuned to alt-right ideology than the GOP we know.

Bannon is waging a political war of mass destruction against the GOP establishment. He is waging an attempted hostile takeover of the GOP. It is an open question whether he cares if Republicans lose general elections in 2018, so long as his hostile takeover of the GOP succeeds.

The heirs to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan have good reason to be worried, frightened and alarmed. Make no mistake, they are.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics.

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Faster, Steve Bannon. Kill! Kill!

By Robert Kagan October 11
Rarely has a political party more deserved the destruction the Republican Party may be about to suffer at the hands of President Trump’s former strategist, ideological guru and onetime puppeteer Steve Bannon. It was obvious during the earliest days of the campaign that Trump never intended to be either the leader or the protector of the Republican Party. He had contempt for the party. For one thing, it was a proven loser. For another, it crumpled like stick figures under his steamroller. Who could respect people who fell so easily, and so willingly?

Party leaders were especially contemptible in Trump’s eyes. They couldn’t even see what he was doing to them, or if they did, they were too cowardly to stop him. He had contempt for them when they tried to distance themselves from his racist, sexist and all around antisocial behavior. But he had even more contempt for them when they nevertheless came crawling back to him, again and again, pledging their fealty. He knew they came back not because they approved of him but because they feared him and the political following he commanded. He had stolen the hearts of their constituents, and therefore he owned them. He would use them as needed, and dispose of them when he could, knowing they could do nothing about it. “I saw them at Munich,” Hitler said of his British and French counterparts, whom he dubbed “little worms.”

Now the conquest is in full swing. Trump and Bannon put on a little Kabuki play for us this year. After a few months, it became clear that Bannon had become a lightning rod in the White House, the target of endless sniping from disgruntled Republicans and fellow staffers, unable to get anything done in the sludge of the Washington bureaucracy. He was hamstrung. And so they decided he could do more for Trump on the outside. Trump would play the constrained madman, surrounded and controlled by the “adults,” occasionally letting his true feelings be known to his throngs. Meanwhile Bannon would play the gonzo political maestro on the outside, running Trumpists in primaries to knock off establishment types, even hardcore conservative ones. Trump could even pretend to support the establishment’s choice, but his voters would know better. The result would be a rout. Some establishment Republicans would lose, either in the primary or the general; others would be afraid to run for reelection; others would try to suck up to Bannon in the hopes of persuading him not to unleash the hounds; all would try to mimic Trump. And it didn’t matter which path they took: These would all be victories for Trump.

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