Patterico's Pontifications


NYT: Mattis on His Way Out?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:03 pm

I’m almost done with the Bob Woodward book, and one thing it makes clear is that Jim Mattis is a calming influence in the Trump administration. When Trump wanted to do something stupid — like pull troops out of South Korea or Afghanistan, or kill a critical trade deal with South Korea — Mattis would step in and talk Trump off the ledge, calmly and respectfully.

Which makes this report extra distressing:

Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Trump still called his defense secretary “Mad Dog” — a nickname Jim Mattis detests — the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with his boss in the White House residence.

Mr. Mattis brought briefing folders with him, aides said, to help explain the military’s shared “ready to fight tonight” strategy with South Korea, and why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has long been viewed as central to protecting the United States. Using his folksy manner, Mr. Mattis talked the president out of ordering torture against terrorism detainees and persuaded him to send thousands more American troops to Afghanistan — all without igniting the public Twitter castigations that have plagued other national security officials.

But the burger dinners have stopped. Interviews with more than a dozen White House, congressional and current and former Defense Department officials over the past six weeks paint a portrait of a president who has soured on his defense secretary, weary of unfavorable comparisons to Mr. Mattis as the adult in the room, and increasingly concerned that he is a Democrat at heart.

Mattis is often the voice of reason in the room. Woodward describes how Trump repeatedly questioned the need for Special Access Programs that would allow the U.S. to detect a North Korean nuclear launch in seven seconds from South Korea, rather detecting it 15 minutes after launch from Alaska. People would explain it, again and again, but Trump never seemed to understand. Trump asked this and many other stupid questions in one meeting, causing Mattis to explain: “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III.” The gathered officials in that meeting were frustrated, as Woodward describes:

Among the principals there was exasperation with these questions. Why are we having to do this constantly? When is he going to learn? They couldn’t believe they were having these conversations and had to justify their reasoning. Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — “a fifth or sixth grader.”

Mattis is the adult in the room, and Trump is indeed the fifth- or sixth-grader that Mattis says he is, according to Woodward’s book. And we can’t afford to lose another adult. Back to the NYT:

The fate of Mr. Mattis is important because he is widely viewed — by foreign allies and adversaries but also by the traditional national security establishment in the United States — as the cabinet official standing between a mercurial president and global tumult.

“Secretary Mattis is probably one of the most qualified individuals to hold that job,” Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. His departure from the Pentagon, Mr. Reed said, “would, first of all, create a disruption in an area where there has been competence and continuity.”

Bad, bad news. I hope we make it through this guy’s administration without him blundering us into a major war.

UPDATE: In the interest of completeness, I should note that Mattis claims: “The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence.” John Kelly has said something similar about the things attributed to him. (The book also quotes Rex Tillerson as calling Trump a “fucking moron” as widely reported by others. Tillerson has never denied that.)

I don’t believe Mattis or Kelly. I think they have decided that keeping their positions is more important than telling the full truth about everything they have said about Trump. But I should note their denials.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

The Latest Efforts To Sink Brett Kavanaugh

Filed under: General — Dana @ 11:01 am

[guest post by Dana]

[ I’ve been working on this post for a few days, but because the circumstances are fluid with new information coming out all the time, I’m just going to throw it all together now and let you have at it. If I’ve missed any updates, add them to the comments. ]

Just one week before the confirmation vote was set to happen, Sen. Diane Feinstein passed along information to federal investigators regarding an alleged incident of sexual misconduct involving nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The questionably-timed announcement was intentionally vague, as Feinstein declined to give any details, and redacted the identity of the accuser before handing over the information to the FBI:

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday that she received information from a person about Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and referred it to federal investigators — but declined to make public any details, citing confidentiality issues.

The information came in a letter, which describes an alleged episode of sexual misconduct involving Kavanaugh when he was in high school, according to a person familiar with the matter. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee first learned about the contents of the letter at a meeting called at the last minute on Wednesday night. The letter had been relayed to Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), two people familiar with the matter said.

“That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”

(After last week’s embarrassing fiasco at the confirmation hearings, including the unbecoming theatrics of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker (only to be followed up by Hillary Clinton peddling an already proven lie), this latest effort to block confirmation of the nominee has a whiff of desperation. This especially after Harris’ manipulative and dishonest efforts to take down Kavanaugh ended up being a Big Nothing.)

After the FBI received the information, they passed on opening an investigation:

According to a person familiar with the matter, the FBI does not now plan to launch a criminal investigation of the matter, which would normally be handled by local authorities, if it was within the statute of limitations. The FBI instead passed the material to the White House, as an update to Kavanaugh’s background check, which already had been completed, the person said. The move is similar to what the bureau did when allegations were leveled against former White House aide Rob Porter.

An FBI official said, “Upon receipt of the information on the night of September 12, we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process.”

Also, there is a question about the timing of the announcement:

Ms. Feinstein, who received the letter from Ms. Eshoo’s office this summer, informed fellow Democrats on the Judiciary Committee about its existence and its contents on Wednesday evening but did not share the letter itself.

Sitting on the information and remaining closed-lipped about it both perplexed and frustrated her colleagues:

Sources familiar with Feinstein’s decision suggested that she was acting out of concern for the privacy of the accuser, knowing that the woman would be subject to fierce partisan attacks if she came forward. Feinstein also acted out of a sense that Democrats would be better off focussing on legal, rather than personal, issues in their questioning of Kavanaugh. Sources who worked for other members of the Judiciary Committee said that they respected the need to protect the woman’s privacy, but that they didn’t understand why Feinstein had resisted answering legitimate questions about the allegation. “We couldn’t understand what their rationale is for not briefing members on this. This is all very weird,” one of the congressional sources said. Another added, “She’s had the letter since late July. And we all just found out about it.”

Feinstein’s office later defended her handling of the information:

Senator Feinstein was given information about Judge Kavanaugh through a third party. The Senator took these allegations seriously and believed they should be public. However, the woman in question made it clear she did not want this information to be public. It is critical in matters of sexual misconduct to protect the identity of the victim when they wish to remain anonymous, and the senator did so in this case.

Yet, as Charles C.W. Cooke points out, this isn’t exactly what she did:

But Feinstein hasn’t done that. Rather, by trickling out bombshell insinuations while denying anyone a chance to evaluate them, she’s played both sides. Worse still, having caused a cynical one-way firestorm, she’s now praising herself for her discretion.

Now, about the alleged incident:

In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her. She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. She was able to free herself. Although the alleged incident took place decades ago and the three individuals involved were minors, the woman said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result.

It doesn’t say whether the this was reported to law enforcement at the time.

Kavanaugh emphatically denies that this ever happened:

I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.

Also, Kavanaugh’s classmate has gone on the record to counter the accuser’s claims. Mark Judge, a writer in Washington, D.C. told the Weekly Standard:

“It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way.”

Judge says he first learned he was named in the letter during an interview with the New Yorker. “[Ronan Farrow] said: As you know, you’re named in the letter. And I did not know,” he said.

The Kavanaugh classmate told TWS that the New Yorker did not provide him the name of the woman alleging wrongdoing, a specific date of the alleged incident, or the location where the incident is alleged to have occurred. The woman alleging misconduct has requested that her identity be protected, according to media reports.

I asked Judge if he could recall any sort of rough-housing with a female student back in high school (an incident that might have been interpreted differently by parties involved). “I can’t. I can recall a lot of rough-housing with guys. It was an all-boys school, we would rough-house with each other,” he said said. “I don’t remember any of that stuff going on with girls.”

Yesterday, 65 women who knew Brett Kavanaugh in high school sent a letter to Senators Grassley and Feinstein outlining their support for the nominee:

We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect. We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.

The signers of this letter hold a broad range of political views. Many of us are not lawyers, but we know Brett Kavanaugh as a person. And he has always been a good person.

(Responding to skeptics, Virginia Hume, who also signed the letter, explained how the letter came about.)

If this ends up being nothing but a smear campaign, Allapundit reminds us about the long-term impact of such a campaign:

Speculation like we’re engaged in right now is precisely what the smear would be designed to achieve. They can’t stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation but they can certainly try to delegitimize him, whether to call his decisions on the Court into question among liberals or to goose turnout for their party this fall or both. The sensational detail about referring the matter to the FBI is a master stroke of ratf*cking: No matter where this goes now, even if it completely disappears off the national radar screen, it’ll pass into progressive lore that Kavanaugh is some sort of sex criminal who not only doesn’t deserve to be on the bench but should actually be doing time somewhere…

It will stay on the national radar for awhile, though, as either Feinstein or Eshoo or one of their staffers is destined to leak something. Maybe liberals will end up spinning it out into their very own version of QAnon. “Breadcrumbs” about the secret Feinstein letter all the way to Election Day.

So here we are: Sen. Feinstein never asked Kavanaugh about the alleged incident, nor brought it to his attention, whether behind closed doors or during the hearing. Further, she did not tell her colleagues on the committee that she had the information. The identity of the accuser remains unknown. The accuser does not want to pursue the matter any further. The vote is scheduled for next week to confirm Kavanaugh.

Sen. Orrin Hatch released a statement expressing his frustration with this turn of events. In part:

I do not intend to allow Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to be stalled because of an 11th hour accusation that Democrats did not see fit to raise for over a month. The Senator in the best position to determine the credibility of these accusations made the conscious decision not to take action on them, and the authorities to whom the accusations have been referred have decided not to take action either.

Every accuser deserves to be heard. But a process of verification is also necessary. In this case, the accusations were made in a private letter, which has been misrepresented in a number of media stories, from an accuser who has declined to go public and has asked for privacy. The letter sent to investigators has had her name redacted, meaning no further investigation could take place. The claims are wholly unverifiable, and come at the tail-end of a process that was already marred by ugly innuendo, dishonesty, and the nastiest form of our politics. The American people deserve much better from the Senate as an institution.

Yet, in spite of everything, this appears to be where the dial has moved:


Personally speaking, I couldn’t have expressed it any better:

If this Kavanaugh charge is true, damn him. If it isn’t, damn the accusers — because a charge like this leaves a mark hard to efface.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


New Commenting Rules

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:02 am

I’ve become less patient with wading through nonsense in the comment section. So we’re going to have some new rules.

Personal attacks on commenters (or me) are out. Criticizing the arguments is fine. Criticizing the person is not. [UPDATE: Criticizing public figures is just fine. What would a blog comment section be without that?]

Violations will be handled according to my judgment and the judgment of moderators I trust. There will indeed be a sliding scale, depending on your track record.

For example, I will go much easier on commenters of all political stripes who bring analysis and reason to the table. aphrael is an example from the left. From the Trump-supporting right I have seen excellent honesty and civility from commenters such as “GOOCH” and Stephen J. If someone like that leveled a personal insult at someone, I’d be very surprised — but I would be inclined to go easier on them because of their track record (some short, and some, like aphrael, very long) of sensible commentary. The longer your track record, the greater the leniency. But even there, there is a breaking point.

The converse is also true: if you’ve always been a jerk, I’ll toss you out the second you violate this rule.

As an example of the latter sort of commenter, a nasty sort calling himself or herself “School Marm” recently tried to post a comment that concluded: “Jesus, you’re stupid.” I trashed the comment and banned School Marm for life. Would I do that to anyone who said those words? No, but School Marm had a long and consistent history of being a royally unpleasant [insert word here that would probably get moderated]. I just now reviewed some of this person’s more recent comments, and each and every one was hateful and filled with vituperation. It was a joy to use this occasion as an excuse to rid myself of this particular [repeat same word] forever.

Another rule: you may get called on your untrue statements, and there may be consequences for failing to man up and apologize if you’re wrong. Recently, I have become more aggressive about forcing people who made nasty and untruthful comments to either back up their statements or apologize. I have rid myself of a handful of total jerks this way. The scenario goes something like this: jerk commenter says “Patterico is always saying [insert something I never said].” In such cases, I tell them that they have a choice: prove their assertion (which of course they can’t) or apologize and retract (which, for people of a certain mindset, is unthinkable). This technique has rid me of about five people who were constantly lying about me. It’s fun holding liars to account. Keep that in mind if you’re contemplating making an angry and sloppily thought out accusation about things I have said.

That leads me to the key principle: DO NOT MISCHARACTERIZE OTHER PEOPLE’S POSITIONS. Also, do not mischaracterize other people’s positions. One more thing: do not mischaracterize other people’s positions.

Few things are more corrosive to honest discussion than constantly having to say: “That’s not what I said. Nope, that’s not what I said either. Nope, you’re still misrepresenting what I said.” One particular commenter here — a longtime commenter who used to guest blog here and often had interesting and insightful things to say — is no longer welcome to comment at this blog because he simply could not stop doing this to me. Virtually any time he took a position opposite to mine, he would mischaracterize my position — and the more viscerally upset he became, the more vicious the distortions of my statements. It became unworkable to keep him around — and when, in a single thread, he misrepresented my position badly in three separate ways, I used the “retract and apologize or prove it” strategem. He failed to retract and apologize, and the rest is history — and so is he, as far as this blog is concerned.

Don’t let that be you.

Some words have been added to the filter. Some are legitimate words but are overused in a particular context. (Example: Mitt Romney is not a “pervert” and I tire of reading that a dozen times in a thread. So now, that word causes a comment to get red-flagged. If you want to use the word “pervert” for a legitimate reason, guess who you can blame for that? I won’t say, because I don’t want to embarrass him, but his handle rhymes with the word “flappyseat” and he often leaves the first comment on any given thread.) If you get caught in the filter, don’t assume you have been banned. Comment threads are being monitored. If you put a lot of effort into a comment and it did not appear, feel free to email.

I have always encouraged freedom of expression. However, the level of nastiness has driven some good people away, and made reading the comments difficult for the rest of us. This is an attempt to do better.

The rules are simple, and won’t affect most honest and good-natured people at all. The rest of you will have to be more careful.

I’m not cross-posting this at The Jury Talks Back, because that blog has a different purpose: to provide a forum for people who would never say anything to anyone that they wouldn’t say to their face at a gathering in my living room. It’s a more polite forum for discussion and it’s underpopulated. If that ethic appeals to you, consider commenting there more.

P.S. Dana recently had a post called Report: College Professor Shoots Himself To Protest President Trump. It was a very good post that merited adult discussion. However, for a particular brand of overly partisan tribalist, there was no resisting the temptation to suggest that the professor should have killed himself. Such comments are so reprehensible that I deleted every such comment and closed the thread. But the post deserved, and continued to deserve, discussion by people who can refrain from such idiocy. That discussion can still be had at the version of her post at The Jury Talks Back, and I encourage people to go there and discuss it, subject to the rules that apply there.

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