State Department Senior Management Resigns En Masse

Career leadership at the State Department have resigned en masse since the appointment of Rex Tillerson. These are career officials, and not political appointees. The size of and suddenness of resignations that are unusual. From the Business Insider article linked prior:

Former State Department officials and foreign-policy professionals who spoke with Business Insider said that there is typically a high degree of turnover when new administrations are installed. But they all said that the abrupt and simultaneous exodus of senior management officials was unlike anything they’d seen before.

“This is unusual because it seems to be hitting the management folks, who are the skeleton of what delivers our foreign policy in the field,” Ambassador Richard Boucher, who served as State Department spokesman for Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, told Business Insider.

“These are the people who maintain the embassies and ensure diplomats’ security around the world, vet visa applicants, et cetera,” Boucher said.”They’re the support apparatus the administration has to go through if they want their new policies to be delivered and implemented.”

Eliot Cohen, a top official in George W. Bush’s State Department and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider that he had “never heard of anything like this before.”

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The Fragile Ego Begets Lies

Saturday, Sean Spicer held his first press conference as White House Press Secretary. Unfortunately, just like everything else in the Trump Administration so far, it played out in the nightmare scenario.

Spicer took no questions, and began a tirade against the press. Most notably, he asserted — contrary to all evidence — that the press was  lying about the size of the crowd that came to view the inauguration, saying “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

This is straight up 1984 bullshit, and it’s not hard to see why Trump would assert these lies. He’s like a four year-old, he wants to be the best, and he says he’s the best, even when it’s obvious he isn’t.

In the lead up to the inauguration, reports were coming out that it was going to be a bust. First there was the reports that the inauguration committee was having trouble booking acts. By itself, this isn’t terribly surprising. Most A-list artists are Democrats, cease-and-desist letters issued by a famous musician to either the RNC or a Republican candidate’s campaign committee to stop using their songs is a quadrennial tradition.  The ultimate lineup was panned — which again wasn’t surprising — but the lineup was very weak. Toby Keith is perfectly fine, and Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless The USA” is du rigor, but the rest were nobodies and has beens. Look 3 Doors Down took time out of their grueling casino tour to play the inauguration.

Then there were the reports that the number of charter bus permits were down compared to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. (393 applications versus 1200 permits in 2009, and 900 in 2013).

Finally, the day came, and well, it was underwhelming. It wasn’t even close to Obama’s first inauguration, or even his second. Instead it was on par with (albeit slightly lower than) a typical second inauguration.

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2009 and 2017’s inauguration crowds at approximately noon. (Reuters)

Prior to the parade, Katy Tur of NBC drove the entire parade route and noticed entire stands being empty.

And she wasn’t the only one.

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The DC Metro tweeted out ridership numbers that showed that Trump’s inauguration was below the ridership at 11 am than George W. Bush’s second inauguration, and less than half that of Obama’s first inauguration. Ultimately, DC Metro counted 570,557 rides for inauguration day this year, which is below an average Wednesday.

Even the roll-out was bizarre. When the @POTUS Twitter account changed hands, the background image was changed to Obama’s 2009 inauguration in stead of a generic photo. The ruse was quickly discovered, and the photo was changed twice more during the day. In all honesty, the image was probably picked because its a Getty inauguration photo, and they didn’t want to wait for a new photo, but it was awkward.

The awkwardness continued into the night when pastry chef Duff Goldman noticed that the cake at the Salute To Our Armed Services Ball was identical to the cake he made in 2013 for the Commander in Chief’s Ball. This was confirmed when 2017’s baker Tiffany MacIsaac told the Washington Post that she was asked to duplicate the cake.

Earlier in the day, Trump visited CIA headquarters, supposedly to mend fences with the CIA and the intelligence community after vilifying the IC, and claiming they were making up the alleged connection to Russia in the DNC hacks during the election (more on that in a later post), and then leaking the report outlining the evidence of the hacks and the supposed FSB blackmail sex tape of Trump paying Russian prostitutes to urinate on the bed where Obama had previously slept. While there, Trump meandered into talking about himself and how many people attended the inauguration, saying:

It looked, honestly, it looked like a million-and-a-half people,. Whatever it was it was, but it went all the way back to the Washington Monument. And I turned on — by mistake, I get this network, and it showed an empty field and it said we drew 250,000 people. Now that’s not bad, but it’s a lie. We had 250,000 literally around, you know, in the little bowl that we constructed. That was 250,000. The rest of the, you know, 20-block area all the way back to the Washington Monument was packed.

So we caught them. And we caught them in a beauty and I think they’re going to pay a big price.

He also stated that he was on the cover of Time magazine more than anyone in the history of the magazine. Again, that’s false. He was on it 11 times. 10 times during and immediately following the election, and only once before. Richard Nixon was on the cover 55 times.

Ironically, this speech at the CIA actually hurt the relationship with CIA, since it was all about Trump, and not about the CIA.

It was after this, speech that Spicer met the press and claimed an asserted that Trump’s inauguration was largest ever viewed.

On Sunday, Reince Preiebus went on Fox News Sunday to defend the lie and assert a completely fictitious narrative about the size of the crowds. Most bizarrely, Kellyanne Conway went on CNN and claimed that Spicer wasn’t lying, but rather giving “alternative facts”.

 

Office Of Ethics To Remain

Due to public outcry, the House GOP caucus held an emergency meeting to remove the Goodlatte amendment. to the House rules package. This means that the Office of Congressional Ethics will remain independent.

Notably, Rep. Steve King (R-IA-4) said he still supported “abolish[ing] it completely”. Rep.Mike Simpson (D-ID-2)  also expressed support for changing the OCE.

Talking Points Memo has collected a tally of how different House GOP Caucus members voted.

 

Previously.

House Ethics Office To Be Repealed And Replaced

Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA-6) announced that the House Republican Conference approved late yesterday, and will vote on tomorrow rules eliminate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. This was done without prior public notice or debate since this was a caucus vote regarding what will be in the House-wide rules vote today.The OCE was created in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal and the Tom DeLay scandal.

The OCE, while not having subpoena power, does have its own staff and investigators., and is overseen by an independent eight person board of people that are not employed by the federal government, and are not members of congress. At the conclusion of an investigation, the board votes on whether or not to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee. This office was behind the bribery convictions and jail sentences for congressmen Duke Cunningham, William J. Jefferson, and Bob Ney. It is controversial within Congress due to it being seen as aggressive.

Under what is being called the Goodlatte plan, the OCE would be be replaced with a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review, which would report to the House Ethics Committee. Since the OCCR would report directly to the House Ethics Committee, the committee would be able suppress investigations. Under the proposed rules, the OCCR would be forbidden from making any public statement.

The lack of independence and the inability of the OCCR are the main the problems with the proposal. The House Ethics Committee simply does nothing with investigations, and when the congressperson eventually retires, all matters are sealed as the investigation is moot. Under current rules, the OCE is required to publically release investigation reports if the Ethics Committee fails to act within a certain time frame. This behavior creates a kind of check of the House Ethics Committee typical slow walking and stonewalling.

In the few hours that after news of this change broke, there’s been bipartisan complaints about this move, with mocking references to Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of corruption.