Who’s In Charge?


Is the public present to the threat?

Image: Charlie Lee, Flickr

The room — 14 feet, 8 inches wide and 13 feet long — has no windows. It had been a restroom at the Monticello home of Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. But now, the small room adjacent to Jefferson’s, the one historians believe once belonged to Sally Hemings, will be restored and given its due, as will the enslaved woman who evidence indicates was the mother of six children of the third president of the United States.

As the current president, Donald Trump, is often lambasted for lowering the dignity and honor of the office, the news coming out of Monticello — where the role of its enslaved people is belatedly a part of the historical presentation to visitors — is a bracing reminder that our leaders have always been flawed. Founding Father Jefferson wrote stirring words of equality while owning fellow human beings.

We are still waiting for Trump’s Declaration of Independence to fill out the other side of his spotty ledger.

If lips are moving…

Americans do expect a base line of manners and truth-telling from leaders and are repeatedly and unrealistically disappointed when they disappoint — and it has been that way for a while. In President Trump’s case, his behavior has always been transparent, to the point of X-ray clarity. He maligned, bullied and fudged facts during the campaign and long before — and still won the Electoral College.

Why the after-the-fact surprise, then, with his popularity now hovering at around 40 percent in most polls, with the strongest support from die-hard Trump voters?

Read more at Roll Call


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Yes, we can. His seat on the National Security Council violates federal law

Image credit: iStock

President Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon has brilliantly outplayed his White House rivals—in particular, chief of staff Reince Priebus—so much so that The Guardian‘s Sabrina Siddiqui and Ben Jacobs have dubbed him a “Cardinal Richelieu in cargo pants” to Trump’s King Louis.

And now that he’s been given a seat on the National Security Council’s principals committee, via executive order of course, can anyone stop him?

It’s no coincidence that Trump signed the executive order appointing Bannon to this powerful and unprecedented role over the weekend while confusion and anger over the President’s travel ban were most intense.

But the President’s memo and Bannon’s power grab did not go unnoticed. Social media exploded and the #StopPresidentBannon hashtag was trending by Sunday. Many Americans—correctly seeing the danger in an executive order that simultaneously limits the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence as it elevates Bannon’s—now believe that Bannon, not Trump, is almost single-handedly setting the administration’s agenda.

This is all the more terrifying because while Priebus is a well-known political operative and establishment Republican, Bannon is the former C.E.O. of Breitbart News Network, a site that Bannon himself described as “the platform for the alt-right” as recently as last year. In addition, Bannon’s long record of racist, sexist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic statements and other hate speech, well documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other anti-hate groups, have made him a hero to, and powerful ally of, white supremacists the world over.

“What’s making America less safe is to have a white supremacist named to the National Security Council as a permanent member,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, “while the chairman of the joint chiefs and the director of national intelligence are told, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’”

Tucked within a chilling report in the New York Times on Sunday that described Trump, citing inside sources, as a moody teenager who liked to watch a lot of TV is the shocking fact that the President apparently did not know that he had given Bannon the seat. Those same sources, according to The Times, said that Trump was furious when he found out, much more furious than he had been over the botched travel ban.

As Kali Holloway pointed out earlier this week, Bannon once called Trump a “blunt instrument for us.” With “us,” Holloway explains, Bannon was referring to a collective of billionaire GOP megadonors led by Robert Mercer, a New York hedge-fund billionaire, and his middle daughter, Rebekah, who were responsible for Bannon’s being put in charge of Trump’s disjointed campaign back in August 2016.

In a “fully transparent statement” about who’s running the show, says Holloway, Bannon told Vanity Fair soon after he took over, “I don’t know whether [Trump] really gets it or not.”

By all accounts, Bannon and White House policy director Stephen Miller were the principal authors of Trump’s executive order on immigration. We also know from numerous reports that Cabinet members, such as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, were barely kept in the loop while then nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, as well as Republican leaders in Congress were kept totally in the dark until after the travel ban’s botched rollout.

“It’s not a team of rivals, it’s rival teams,” one White House official told WaPo’s Josh Rogin, referring to Bannon’s effort to form a policy staff of his own to compete with the National Security Council.

The N.S.C. was first established in 1947 to ensure that the U.S. president had access to the best possible advice from a select group of civilian and military experts, including Cabinet members, before making any significant decisions. As David J. Rothkopf, chief executive and editor of Foreign Policy magazine succinctly put it, “the N.S.C. is effectively the central nervous system of the U.S. foreign policy and national security apparatus.”

And with no national security experience except for seven years in the Navy and a graduate degree, Rothkopf argues, Bannon “is the precisely wrong person for this wrong role.”

In fact, the New York Times reported that Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, were with him when he signed off on last week’s disastrous Yemen raid that resulted in the deaths of several civilian adults and children and a Navy SEAL. It’s clear that without the advice of military experts, the unchecked arrogance of Trump and his closest advisers, coupled with their undeniable inexperience, can quickly lead to deadly outcomes, whether they intend them to or not.

Retired Admiral Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as a former member of the NSC, warned that Bannon’s appointment would put Americans in danger and diminish the constitutionally guaranteed authority of Senate-confirmed cabinet officials.

Unfortunately, unlike cabinet and other presidential appointments, White House staff are responsible only to the president and do not require Senate approval. But Congress can, in fact, intervene—legally. Fred Kaplan suggests that Bannon’s very position as White House chief strategist precludes him from serving on the NSC. According to Title 50 of the U.S. Code, Section 3021, the statute that established the council, the NSC “shall be composed of” the president; the vice president; the secretaries of state, defense, and energy; and “the secretaries and undersecretaries of other executive departments and of the military departments, when appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at his pleasure.”

Bannon is neither a secretary nor an undersecretary. And precisely because he is a member of the White House staff, he has not been confirmed by the Senate. No presidential memorandum, not even Trump’s, say legal experts, can override federal law.

Senators “can simply assert that the law takes precedence over a presidential memorandum, and the law makes no provision for his participation,” says Kaplan.

Given the response of Republican leadership to Trump’s attacks on immigrants and the judiciary thus far, it seems unlikely the few Republican senators who have spoken out against Bannon’s appointment, will press the issue until forced to do so.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and Senate are kept busy responding to every new constitutional crisis and mortal threat to our democracy precipitated, perhaps intentionally, by Trump’s latest executive order, written by none other than Bannon himself.

Ordinary Americans will have to apply pressure: we should be asking every member of the House and Senate, both Democrat and Republican, to go on the record, either in support or opposition to this dangerous reconfiguration of the NSC and Bannon’s illegal appointment to this influential new post. It’s one of the few tools we have to thwart Bannon and his billionaire club’s attempt to create a shadow government right before our eyes.

– Danielle Bizzarro