Authoritarianism Watch: A Deeply Chilling Monday Night

Tonight, Donald Trump will deliver the State of the Union address, and the state of our union is profoundly unwell. We are a deeply divided nation with lots of troubles domestically and abroad; the president and his party are diligently dismantling our democratic systems and scoffing at the rule of law; and it is increasingly clear that our problems are far bigger than the midterm elections can solve.

After Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe was forced out yesterday, leaving us with one fewer person with even an infinitesimal inclination to hold this president to account, Rep. Adam Schiff, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, disclosed that the Republican Party was acting against the nation's best interests yet again by voting to release Rep. Devin Nunes reckless and menadacios memo alleging that the FBI committed surveillance abuses during the 2016 election.

Schiff: A very sad day, I think, in the history of this committee. As I said to my committee colleagues during this hearing, sadly we can fully expect that the President of the United States will not put the national interest over his own personal interest, but it is a sad day indeed when that is also true of our own committee — because today this committee voted to put the president's personal interest, perhaps their own political interest, above the national interest, in denying themselves even the ability to hear from the Department [of Justice] and the FBI [why the memo should not be released].
Republicans on the committee would not even allow FBI Director Christopher Wray to brief them on the actual intelligence, which is a pretty clear indication they know that what's in Nunes' memo is dishonest trash that Wray would contradict. Instead, they would brook no dissent from their invented "facts," and voted to release the memo publicly (unless Trump instructs them to keep it secret within five days).

That was not the only disclosure that Schiff made following their meeting. He also reported that Republicans are investigating the FBI and the Department of Justice.

Then, late yesterday, Elana Schor at Politico reported that the Trump administration informed Congress the new Russia sanctions they imposed in a bipartisan bill passed last summer would not be implemented.
A State Department spokesperson said by email that the administration is "using this legislation as Congress intended to press Russia to address our concerns related to its aggression in Ukraine, interference in other nations' domestic affairs and abuses of human rights."

Potential targets of future penalties "have been put on notice, both publicly and privately, including by the highest-level State Department and other U.S. government officials where appropriate, that significant transactions with listed Russian entities will result in sanctions," the spokesperson added.

...In addition to the sanctions on entities doing business with Moscow's defense and intelligence sectors, the sanctions law also called for the administration to produce by Monday a list of oligarchs linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a report on the consequences of sanctioning Russia's sovereign debt. The sanctions law was crafted partially in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The administration released the unclassified version of the oligarchs list late Monday, after its announcement on the non-issuance of new sanctions. The Treasury Department noted that the roster "is not a sanctions list" and that individuals listed do not "meet the criteria for designation under any sanctions program" as a result of their inclusion.

The list named 114 individuals who serve "senior political figures" in Putin's government, as well as 96 oligarchs with close ties to Moscow. It is unclear whether Congress received the sovereign debt report also due Monday, which is likely to contain classified information. The State Department spokesperson added: "Further details are contained in a classified report we have submitted to Congress."
Those are the same sanctions over which Putin threatened "painful" retaliation against American civilians if they were enforced, and that is the same oligarchs list which, just yesterday, Putin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would consider a "direct and obvious attempt to influence" the Russia elections in March.

So Trump has just completely caved to Putin's bullying.

And, in doing so, the executive branch of the United States government has unilaterally overruled the legislative branch.

Let us be very clear about what has happened here: The U.S. president has asserted himself as an authoritarian and fundamentally undermined the basic tenets of the U.S. democracy in order to do the bidding of the Russians, while his party uses their majority in Congress to try to discredit or outright quash investigations into that president's collusion with the Russians.

As I have said many times before: The collusion is right out in the open.

And we are losing the republic because there is simply not enough urgency to even have a frank public conversation about that, no less to disempower a president who is a blatant traitor.

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