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TELLING TRUTH WHILE TALKING TRUMP

 

By Philip Revzin

CHICAGO, 28 AUGUST 2018— We’re bombarded every day with news ranging from the odd to the outrageous. A summit in Singapore either did or didn’t solve the North Korea problem, whatever that may be. At a summit in Helsinki U. S. President Donald Trump either did or didn’t tell off Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russian interference in the 2016 election that pretty much everybody but these two guys think happened. The president either did or didn’t conspire with his lawyer to pay hush money before the election to a Playboy model and a porn star.

The press, woke and doing its job by reporting on all this stuff, is labeled the enemy of the people for its pains. The White House seems to have revived the Nixonian concept of the enemies list, threatening to remove the largely courtesy security clearances of past officials including John Brennan, Andrew McCabe, Susan Rice, Michael Hayden. James Comey and James Clapper.

Does anybody really know what’s going on?

At some point we’re going to find out, but meanwhile books – solid long-form books that you can hold in your hands and read at your leisure – can add some reason to the chaos. Messers Clapper and Comey, who are on the enemies’ list, have new memoirs. Madeleine Albright, who probably by oversight isn’t yet on the list has a powerful memoir-diatribe on the dangers of Fascism, and David Corn and Michel Isikoff, journalists who I’m sure are on other enemies’ lists, have the clearest explanation yet of what really went on between Trump and various Russians over the years.

They all shine light on various parts of the darkness. A common thread is each author’s obvious dedication – often over a lifetime of service to their country or to journalism, which is the same thing - to gathering and assimilating and reporting facts.

News, not fake news. These are serious folks telling serious truth. It’s worth taking some time to hear them out.

James Clapper, a retired Air Force General and more-recently Director of National Intelligence for Barack Obama, unloads on "fake news" and those who propagate the myths of false narratives with characteristic candor and clarity throughout this newsy memoir.

He says it no better than in a stirring last chapter recounting his final days as DNI during the transition to Trump. "I don’t believe our democracy can function for long on lies, particularly when inconvenient and difficult facts spoken by the practitioners of truth are dismissed as 'fake news'….Just in the past few years, I’ve seen our country become so polarized because people live in separate realities in which everyone has his or her own set of facts – some of which are lies knowingly distributed by a foreign adversary."

Come for the outrage, but stay for a fascinating journey. Clapper was an Army brat in Europe just after the World War II, served in Air Force in Vietnam and steadily ascended the intelligence side of the latter through the Cold War. The book highlights, among other issues, the real story of U.S. – Soviet relations (mutual distrust) and contains the clearest explanation of the Benghazi fiasco that I’ve seen.

Naturally the Trump stuff is the sexiest and Clapper doesn’t disappoint. Clapper takes us virtually day-by-day through the run-up to the vote, all told from the ntelligence community’s point of view, with I’m sure many sensitive details withheld. It’s a picture of growing alarm at Russian interference in our election and the Obama administration genuinely seeking even-handedness while dealing with an unprecedented situation. But his conclusion is clear: Russia swung the election to Trump.

James Comey thinks likewise, and his book, too, is worth reading for the non-Trump stuff as well. His chapter recounting the famous hospital room visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft by George Bush administration officials seeking Ashcroft’s approval of "enhanced" interrogation techniques, sometimes referred to as torture, turns out to be populated by a familiar cast. Then Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Chuck Rosenberg, both current frequent TV commentators, as well as Comey himself, then Deputy Attorney General were there, and at one point Comey calls then FBI director Robert Mueller on his cell phone to make sure his FBI agents won’t kick Comey out. Mueller agrees. Comey stays and when an intensely-ill Ashcroft points to Comey and says: "There’s the Attorney General." The Bush delegation gets out of Dodge. You couldn’t write this any better for The West Wing.

But like with Clapper, most attention on the Comey book focusses on the 20126 election. There are detailed, and now familiar, recountings of Comey’s decision to go public with information on Hillary Clinton that may have swayed the election – he says he "hopes" it didn’t and his meetings with Trump before the election to present the Steele Dossier allegations and afterwards to be asked to give then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn a break. Again, too weird for even TV drama stuff. And again, this lifelong Republican’s message is clear: "Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation."

Madeleine Albright also sees this threat, and she’s seen it before. Her book Fascism is bluntly subtitled: A Warning. She was a toddler when the Nazi’s stormed Czechoslovakia, where she was born and fled with her parents to America when the Iron Curtain descended. As an academic and diplomat she devoted a career to studying the rise of Fascism in the early 20th Century and differentiating it from totalitarianism, dictatorship, tyranny, despotism and autocracy. Fascism is an extreme form of authoritarian rule where citizens are forced to do what the ruler wants, nothing more or less.

It’s linked to extreme nationalism and shifts all power from citizens to ruler.

Her major examples are Hitler, of course, Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe, Recip Erdogan and Turkey, the Kims of North Korea and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Her focus is on the degradations of institutions including courts, elected assemblies and the press. Her discussion of Donald Trump is factual but pointed, recounting his favorable comments about Erdogan, Putin, Kim Jong Un, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Abdel Fatah el-Sisi of Egypt and his oft-stated contention that the U.S. is a dark, violent hell-hole with carnage on the streets that he alone can fix.

To Albright, this isn’t yet Fascism, but a lot of it sounds familiar. The book is just what its subtitle says: A Warning.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn go beyond warning that Russia may have meddled in the 2016 election to virtual certainty that they did. When I saw them a couple of months ago at their book launch they recounted literally yelling "Stop the Presses" at their publisher to try to get in one more breaking news tidbit. The point was that the news kept bearing them out.

In fact, the outline and background for pretty much everything currently being disclosed about the Russia investigation is right here. Maria Butina, the red-headed NRA-backing Russian spy? Page 109. Paul Manafort? Chapter 7. Roger Stone? Ditto. Michael Cohen? Page 79. There is a lot of great journalism in this book, from Trump’s early desire for a Trump Tower Moscow through the Miss niverse pageant there – but alas no proof the pee-pee tape exists – to the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Clinton from the Russians – no it wasn’t a meeting about adoptions – to yesterday’s headlines.

Read it and the next time you hear "no collusion, no collusion," a knowing smile will cross your face.

Yay journalism! Yay also courageous public servants willing to speak out. There may be hope for us after all.

These aren’t Tell All books in the commonly understood sense. For that we have Michael Wolf’s Fire and Fury and the forthcoming Bob Woodward inside tale of the Trump administration. But they tell us plenty.

 



Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence
By James Clapper with Trey Brown
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Viking (May 2018)
ISBN-10: 0525558640
$30.00

 



A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
By James Comey
Hardcover: 312 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books; First Edition edition (April 2018)
ISBN-10: 1250192455
ISBN-13: 978-1250192455
ISBN-13: 978-0525558644
$29.99



Fascism: A Warning
By Madeleine Albright

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062802186
ISBN-13: 978-0062856524
$27.99

 



Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
By Michael Isikoff and David Corn
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Twelve; First Edition edition (March 2018)
ISBN-10: 1538728753
ISBN-13: 978-1538728758
$30.00

Philip Revzin is an award winning journalist and former editor-at-large for Bloomberg News. Previously, he was a long-time reporter, editor and publisher for The Wall Street Journal Europe in London, Paris and Brussels. Later, Mr. Revzin was named publisher and editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the publisher for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong. Philip Revzin is the author of Just One Before I Die: A Cubs Fan’s Chronicle of a Championship Season, currently available in a Kindle edition on Amazon.com. 



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