Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Now Facebook Will Tell You Why You're In 'Facebook Jail'

If you’ve engaged in political discussions on Facebook, the chances are good that you have had posts deleted and even spent some time in “Facebook jail,” the euphemism for temporary bans that put users in “timeout” when they get caught posting something inappropriate. A big problem is that Facebook’s community standards were vague and unevenly applied. Many users didn’t know what standard they were accused of violating and had no way to appeal Facebook’s decision. Now that has changed.

Today Facebook released its full community standards playbook, an 8,000-word guide that is used by the company’s 7,500 moderators. The guide is split into six sections that are based on specific types of posts that can be removed. These include violence and criminal behavior, safety, objectionable content, integrity and authenticity, intellectual property and content-related requests. The company says that the standards will continue to be updated frequently.

Many of the problematic posts are straightforward, but there are many exceptions. For example, Facebook says, “we default to removing sexual imagery,” but “make allowances for the content” that fits certain criteria such as when it is “a form of protest, to raise awareness about a cause, or for educational or medical reasons.”

“We remove content that glorifies violence or celebrates the suffering or humiliation of others,” Facebook says, but “we allow graphic content (with some limitations) to help people raise awareness about issues.”

Regarding the sticky issue of hate speech, Facebook lists a number of protected categories that include “race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disability or disease” as well as “some protections for immigration status.” Facebook does not allow attacks, defined as “violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation,” on these groups.

Hate speech is divided into three tiers. Tier 1 attacks are violent speech. Tier 2 attacks are “statements of inferiority.” Tier 3 attacks are calls to exclude protected groups.

There have been reports of Facebook users reposting threats that they have received and then being banned. Facebook says that if hate speech is reposted for the purpose of raising awareness, “we expect people to clearly indicate their intent, which helps us better understand why they shared it.” Otherwise the content may be removed.

When it comes to “fake news,” Facebook allows it. Noting that there is “a fine line between false news and satire or opinion,” the company says, “we don't remove false news from Facebook but instead, significantly reduce its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed.”

Engadget points out that Facebook addressed accusations of viewpoint bias that results in uneven application of the rules in a recent blog post. “Our reviewers are not working in an empty room; there are quality control mechanisms in place, and management on site, that reviewers can look to for guidance,” the company said.

When the company makes a mistake, new policies will allow users to appeal the removal of content, Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of product policy and counter-terrorism, told Reuters. In the past, only the removal of accounts, groups and pages could be appealed. Bickert also said that Facebook would begin to provide specific reasons for why the content was removed.

It’s important to remember that the First Amendment does not apply to Facebook and social media. The constitutional guarantee of free speech applies only to government restrictions. Private companies like Facebook have the right to police their communities as they see fit, but unless the companies respect freedom of speech they will ultimately chase users away to more open platforms. There has already been much talk online  from conservatives about leaving Facebook and Twitter in the wake of the news that the companies favor liberal viewpoints.  

Facebook’s new openness about community standards seems to be an attempt to fix the problem of vague standards for users. As Bickert said, “You should, when you come to Facebook, understand where we draw these lines and what’s OK and what’s not OK.”

Now if Facebook would just apply those standards evenly across the political spectrum. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, April 20, 2018

Details of the Comey memos

James Comey's memos about his meetings with Donald Trump have finally been released by the Justice Department. The declassified and redacted memos have been posted online and the media is having a field day exploring Comey's notes about Trump.

The memos begin with an explanation by Comey that they were typed in car immediately after leaving the White House. He explains that the memos are not direct quotes, but were intended to “capture the substance of what was said.”

The first memo

In their first meeting on Jan. 6, other staff members left the room so that President-elect Trump and Comey could discuss a sensitive matter, that of the Steele dossier, on behalf of James Clapper, the CIA director. Trump told Comey that he (Comey) “had one heck of year but that I had conducted myself honorably and had a great reputation. He said I was put repeatedly in impossible positions. He said you saved her and then they hated you for what you did later, but what choice did you have? He said he thought very highly of me and looked forward to working with me, saying he hoped I planned to stay on.”

These comments took place in private so no one can verify them, but it was a few weeks after this on Jan. 24 that Trump did announce that Comey would be retained as FBI Director in the new administration. These compliments stand in stark contrast to Trump's tweets over the past year. The president undoubtedly regrets his decision to keep Comey.

Comey described the reports that the Russians had tapes of Trump with prostitutes at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow in 2013. Trump replied that he didn't need to “go there” and laughed, which Comey took to mean that Trump didn't need to pay for sex. Trump also said that he “always assumed that hotel rooms he stayed in when he travels are wired in some way.”

Comey said that the reports were not necessarily true, but that he was telling the president because “CNN had them and were looking for a news hook.” Comey told the president that they were “not investigating him,” but that “our job was to protect the president from efforts to coerce him.”

The second memo

On Jan. 28, 2017, Trump and Comey had dinner. Trump again asked Comey if he wanted to stay in his job and Comey answered that he did if that was what the president wanted.

In passage that Comey undoubtedly regrets writing, he told the president, “I said I don't do sneaky things. I don't leak. I don't do weasel moves.” Looking at these statements in 20/20 hindsight significantly undercuts Comey's credibility.

The two men discussed the Clinton email investigation and Comey told the president that “the investigators all agreed there was no case.” Trump disagreed. Comey also told the president about being directed not to use the word “investigation.”

The president also asked about Andrew McCabe, who was the FBI's deputy director at the time, saying, “I was pretty rough on him and his wife during the campaign.”

Comey says he “explained that Andy was a true professional and had no problem at all. I then explained what FBI people were like, that whatever there [sic] personal views, they strip them when they step into their bureau roles and actually hold 'political people' in slight contempt without regard to party.”

Trump again brought up the “golden showers thing” and said that he had not stayed overnight in Russia for the Miss Universe pageant. He suggested that he might have the FBI investigate the allegations to disprove them. Comey replied that “it was up to him, but I wouldn't want to create a narrative that we were investigating him, because we are not and I worried that such a thing would be misconstrued. I also said it is very difficult to disprove a lie.”

It was at this meeting that Trump asked Comey for his “loyalty” on two occasions. The president said that James Mattis and Jeff Sessions spoke highly of Comey and said, “I need loyalty.” Comey replied that the president would get honesty from him. The president said the he wanted “honesty, loyalty.”

“You will get that from me,” Comey said, adding they they may have understood the phrase differently, but “I decided it would not be productive to push the subject further.”

In discussing who should be Comey's contact in the White House, Trump expressed doubt about Mike Flynn, saying, “The guy has serious judgment issues.” He related the story of how a world leader whose name was redacted was the first to call after the inauguration and Flynn did not tell the president for six days.

The third memo

In the third memo, dated Feb. 8, Comey met with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The meeting apparently followed shortly on the dinner with Trump. Some details are redacted, but Priebus asks about a “report” that appears to have referenced the allegations from the Steele dossier. Comey replied that “portions of the material were corroborated by other intelligence.”

Priebus then asked whether there was “a FISA order on Mike Flynn.” Comey's answer is redacted and the then explains that this sort of question should follow proper channels.

Priebus asked why Hillary Clinton couldn't be prosecuted for “gross negligence” and Comey says he explained the “facts and the law. At some point, I added that it wasn't my fault that Huma Abedin had forwarded emails to Anthony Weiner.”

The two then went to the Oval Office to speak to the president. Trump again asked about McCabe and whether he ever mentioned the campaign attacks to Comey. “Never,” Comey answered.

The president then brought up the “golden showers thing” again and denied it as he had previously. Trump said “'the hookers thing' is nonsense,” but that “Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world'” without saying where or when this conversation had taken place.

The meeting ended with a conversation about Trump's interview with Bill O'Reilly. Trump said that O'Reilly's question about whether he respected Putin was a tough question, but he had answered that he does respect him as the leader of a major country. Trump asked Comey whether he thought the answer was satisfactory.

Comey said, “The answer was fine except the part about killers, because we aren't the kind of killers that Putin is. When I said this, the president paused noticeably. I don't know what to make of it, but he clearly noticed I had directly criticized him.”

The fourth memo

The next memo is from Feb. 14. After a meeting, the president made everyone else leave and then told Comey he wanted “to talk about Mike Flynn.” Trump repeatedly gave his opinion that Flynn “hadn't done anything wrong” in talking to the Russians, but had been fired because he “misled the vice president” in addition to “other concerns.”

Before Comey left, the president repeated that Flynn was a “good guy” who didn't do anything wrong in talking to the Russians. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

In contrast to his conversation with Priebus where he established firm boundaries, Comey did not tell the president that this request was out of line. Instead, he “replied by saying, 'I agree he is a good guy,' but said no more.”

As Comey left, the conversation turned to leaks. Comey said “something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He [Trump] replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. 'They spend a couple of days in jail, make a new friend and they are ready to talk.'” Comey says he laughed at the joke as he walked out.

The fifth memo

The fifth memo relates to a phone call from March 1. In the brief call, Comey noted that Trump told him that he “heard I'm doing great.”

The sixth memo

In the sixth memo, from March 30, Trump complains about the “cloud of this Russia business” making things “difficult.” The president asked how to “lift the cloud.”

Comey answered “that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work.”

“I reminded him that I told him that we weren't investigating him and that I had told the Congressional leadership the same thing,” Comey said. The president replied that “it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out.” Trump did say that it would be “good” to find out if “some satellite,” apparently meaning a campaign worker, had done something wrong, but that Trump “hadn't done anything and hoped I would find a way to get out that we weren't investigating him.”

Trump once again brought up McCabe and the money that Jill McCabe had received from Terry McAuliffe as a candidate. Comey confirmed to Trump that McCabe was “an honorable person.”

The seventh memo

The final memo, from April 11, details another phone call with the president. Trump again asked about “getting out that he personally is not under investigation.” Comey said that he had “passed the request to the Acting AG [Dana Boente due to Jeff Sessions' recusal] and had not heard back from him.” He told Trump that the way to handle the request was to “have the White House Counsel call the Acting Attorney General and make the request.” Trump said that he would do so and again brought up loyalty.

In a footnote, Comey says, “I perceived him to be slightly annoyed by my reply.”

The bottom line of the Comey memos is that President Trump didn't seem to want the Russia investigation ended, he just wanted people to know that he wasn't being investigated personally. As is frequently noted, Trump places a high value on personal loyalty and, when Comey did not respond to his request to “get out” that Trump wasn't being investigated, he interpreted that as disloyalty. Trump's firing of Comey, while not an obstruction of justice, was an error of judgment. Rather than making the Russia “cloud” go away, Trump ensured that it would become even larger and consume a large part of his presidency.

Originally published on the Resurgent

Read the Comey Memos Full Text

The fabled James Comey memos have been released and they are on the internet. The DOJ released an unclassified version that has been posted online by the Associated Press. You can read the full text of the infamous and controversial memos here:


The Comey memos were written by then-FBI Director James Comey after a series of meetings with Donald Trump. The first meeting took place on January 6, 2017 at Trump Tower when Trump was still president-elect. The last memo was from April 2017, about a month before President Trump fired Director Comey on May 9.

Last June, Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. "I didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”

Since then, President Trump has accused Comey of both lying about their meetings and leaking classified information.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Details on Southwest 1380

There are new details emerging about the deadly Southwest Airlines engine failure yesterday. The NTSB reports that a fan blade on the engine was missing and there are striking parallels between yesterday's accident and a 2016 incident on another Southwest 737.

The 737-700 uses CFM 56-7B engines manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines. The original CFM 56 first ran in 1974 and has been continuously updated since then. The -7 version of the engine dates back to 1995 and is used on a large number of 737 variants. The shutdown rate of the CFM 56 is reported to be only only one for every 333,333 hours and the engines log an average of one million flight hours every eight days.

The CFM 56 is classified as high bypass turbofan, meaning that most of the air that passes through the engine flows around the sides through bypass ducts rather than through the engine's combustion section. The engine's fan is the large rotating set of blades that can be seen at the engine inlet. Behind the fan is a series of compressors, turbines and igniters that first compress the intake air, mix it with jet fuel and then it burn it under high pressure to create thrust.

The CFM 56 has had a history of fan blade problems, although most of the incidents occurred with older versions of the engine. In 1989, a 737-400 fitted with CFM 56-3C engines suffered a fan blade failure. The pilots of the British Midlands jet shut down the wrong engine and the damaged engine subsequently quit completely. The resulting crash killed 47 people and injured 74 in what became known as the Kegworth air disaster. Two other 737-400s fitted with the same engines experienced fan blade problems shortly after, resulting in a fleet wide grounding of all 737-400s while fans were replaced and engine controls were modified to reduce the engine's maximum thrust.

The -7 version of the engine experienced a comparable problem in 2016 when Southwest Flight 3472 experienced a fan blade separation very similar to yesterday's incident. On the flight from New Orleans to Orlando, the 737-700 suffered a fan blade failure that also caused engine parts to puncture the cabin pressure vessel and led to a depressurization. There were no serious injuries and the incident led to a requirement to inspect fan blades for corrosion and cracks caused by metal fatigue.

CNN reports today that NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that one of the accident aircraft engine's 24 fan blades was missing and that there was evidence of metal fatigue where the blade attached to the spinner hub.

Sumwalt cautioned against drawing conclusions based on the earlier Southwest incident. “We want to look at this particular event and see what the factors are surrounding this and maybe they’re related and maybe not,” he told Flight Global. “We need to understand what’s going on here.”

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said after the incident that the engine had been inspected on April 15 and returned to service. It is not clear if the recent inspection included checks for metal fatigue or focused on the fan blades.

Although it is still early in the investigation, it seems that fan blade separation due to metal fatigue is the likely cause of the accident. If this is confirmed, the NTSB and FAA may issue an inspection directive similar to 2016. With the CFM 56-7B powering some 13,400 airliners worldwide, inspections could be an expensive proposition in terms of both compliance and scheduling. In addition to Southwest, the 737-700 is operated in the US by several other carriers including Delta, United and Alaska Airlines.

When asked about the parallels between Southwest 3472 and whether the NTSB would recommend a fix or inspection for fatigue in the fan section, Sumwalt answered, “I don’t have that information right now. Our focus is getting out the door at headquarters and getting on this airplane so we can get up to Philadelphia.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Gorsuch Sides With Court Liberals - And It's a Good Thing

“But the Supreme Court” was the rallying cry for Trump supporters in the 2016 election. This was replaced by, “But Gorsuch” after President Trump's appointment of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat of Antonin Scalia last year. Imagine the consternation then when Justice Gorsuch joined with the liberal wing of the Court to rule against the Trump Administration this week in a prominent immigration law case.

In truth, Gorsuch's ruling is exactly what should have been expected from a strict constructionist jurist. This is what most Republicans have claimed to want on the bench, but, unlike judicial activists, a constructionist judge can be expected to rule against partisan interests when the facts of the case require it.

This was the case in Sessions v. Dimaya. A legal immigrant from the Philippines, James Dimaya, was convicted of two burglaries. The Trump Administration ordered Dimaya's deportation under a federal law that requires mandatory removal of any immigrant convicted an “aggravated felony.” The law refers to the definition of “aggravated felony” in the US Code, which is a “crime of violence” to encompass “any … offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” The Trump Administration's position was that Dimaya's two nonviolent burglaries were aggravated felonies under the law. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court held that the definition of “aggravated felony” was unconstitutionally vague.

The ruling, even though it did not include most of the Court's conservatives, was directly in line with how Justice Scalia would have likely ruled. In fact, the ruling in Sessions v. Dimaya follows a precedent in which Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for a unanimous ruling. In Johnson v. United States (2015), the Court ruled that a similar definition of “violent felonies” was also too vague.

In both cases, the justices resisted the temptation to fill in the blanks and decide what Congress meant when it established the statute. Even though many conservatives would have been pleased if the two cases had been decided differently, if the Court had presumed to know the intent of the legislators who wrote the law they would have been guilty of legislating from the bench, something conservatives purport to abhor.

Scalia was a strong opponent of trying to divine what legislators meant when they crafted laws. In a different dissent, Scalia famously railed against the practice, which often leads justices to rule based on their own opinions rather than the letter of the law, saying, “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

“If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again,” Scalia explained in a different speech. “You think the death penalty is a good idea? Persuade your fellow citizens to adopt it. You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it. That’s flexibility.”

If the Trump Administration wants to deport burglars, it should persuade Congress to pass a law that explicitly says immigrant burglars should be deported rather than trying to redefine burglary as a violent crime.

The Supreme Court's ruling in Sessions v. Dimaya may have been a loss for the Trump Administration, but it was a sorely needed victory for the rule of law. It should inspire Congress to be more specific in new laws and leave less room for interpretation by prosecutors, judges, bureaucrats and presidents.

It looks more and more like Neil Gorsuch will be the kind of justice that America needs.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Southwest Engine Failure Kills Passenger

A Southwest Airlines flight from New York's LaGuardia airport to Dallas suffered a catastrophic engine failure yesterday that left one woman dead. The fatality was the first US airline death in nine years.

Southwest 1380 was a Boeing 737-700 twin-engine airliner operated by the Dallas-based, low fare airline. The flight is typically scheduled to take just under four hours. The aircraft left the gate at LaGuardia at 10:27 a.m., three minutes early, and took off 16 minutes later.

As the airplane climbed to its planned cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, it suffered what appears to be an uncontained failure of the left engine. Radar data from FlightAware.com shows that the plane only attained an altitude of about 32,000 feet before it started its descent. By this point, the plane was northwest of Philadelphia and about 20 minutes into the flight.

Generally, when pilots say they “lost an engine” they mean they lost power on the engine. In this case, it looks as though the Southwest crew lost large pieces of their engine. Pictures of the engine show the cowling at the front the engine nacelle peeled back or missing with much of engine's interior exposed.

On the portion of the air-traffic audio that has been released, a Southwest pilot tells the controller, “We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit.” This indicates that the crew suspected structural damage after the engine explosion and didn't want to stress the airplane with high speed flight.

Jet engines contain a number of fans and turbines that spin at a high rate inside the engine cowling. In the case of Southwest 1380, it appears that finely-machined guts of the jet engine came apart violently, turning fan blades and other engine parts into shrapnel that peppered the fuselage. One of the pieces of engine hit a cabin window, causing a small hole and injuring a female passenger. A passenger reported that the crew was trying to plug the hole when the window completely shattered, pulling the female passenger partly outside the plane.

The woman's head and arms were outside the window and “passengers right next to her were holding onto her. And meanwhile, there was blood all over this man's hands. He was tending to her,” passenger Marty Martinez told CNN.

Airline cabins are pressurized by excess air from the engines. Contrary to popular belief, it takes a large hole to affect the cabin pressure. There are even holes built into the fuselage called outflow valves that allow excess cabin air to be dumped overboard to prevent overpressurization. In the case of window breaking, the engine air cannot keep up with the pressurization demands of the cabin and the airplane experiences a rapid decompression.

In a rapid decompression, the air inside the airplane rushes out quickly with a loud noise and the temperature quickly drops to below freezing. Wind and engine noise through the open window add to the chaos.

A rapid decompression is a maneuver that jet pilots routinely train for in the simulator. The pilots first don their oxygen masks since the thin air at high altitudes will render a person unconscious in a matter of seconds. The next step is to put the airplane into a steep dive to a safe lower altitude while making sure that the passenger oxygen masks have deployed in the cabin.

This steep, controlled dive may have given some passengers the incorrect idea that the airplane was descending out of control. FlightAware shows that the airplane descended from 30,000 to 10,000 feet, which is considered a safe altitude for an unpressurized aircraft, in about five minutes as it turned toward Philadelphia.

As the crew approached the airport, the pilot said, “Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well? We've got injured passengers.” She said that airplane was not on fire, but repeated, “Part of it's missing.”

“They said there's a hole and someone went out,” she added.

The plane landed uneventfully in Philadelphia about 20 minutes after the engine failure. One passenger was killed, but there were no other serious injuries reported among the 143 passengers and 5 crew members. Seven passengers reported minor injuries. The entire flight lasted only 40 minutes.

The only fatality was Jennifer Riordan, of Albuquerque, N.M., the New York Daily News reported. Riordan, vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo, is assumed to be the female passenger who was pulled partially out of the window, but this has not been confirmed.

US airline accidents have become exceedingly rare. The last fatal accident was in 2009 when the crash of Colgan 3407 left 49 passengers and crew dead as well as one person on the ground.

There have been similar accidents in US history where the endings were more tragic than Southwest 1380. In 1989, an engine exploded on a United Airlines DC-10, severing the flight controls and leaving the crew airborne with no way to control the airplane. Using the throttles for the remaining engines, the crew of United 232 was able to steer the plane to a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa that left 111 of the 296 passengers and crew dead.

A year earlier in 1988, Aloha Airlines Flight 243 suffered a rapid decompression when a section of the cabin ceiling peeled off the aircraft at 23,000 feet. A flight attendant was sucked out of the 737-200 over the Pacific Ocean near Maui and her body was never recovered. The crew safely landed the airplane with no further deaths.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said that the engine had been inspected on April 15 and had flown about 40,000 cycles. It had been about 10,000 cycles since the engine's last overhaul.

“I'm not aware of any issues with the airplane or any issues with the engine involved,” Kelly said.

The cause of the catastrophic engine failure is not known. While extremely reliable, jet engines are not infallible. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that board sees “about three or four [uncontained failures] a year, but not all involve US airlines. With airlines flying about 17 million hours annually, three or four failures is about as close to error-free as any transportation system can get.

In fact, aviation machines are so reliable that the weak link often lies with pilots and maintenance personnel. Southwest has been fined several times by the FAA for maintenance violations, but this is not unusual in itself. Many of the violations are technical and other airlines such as United and Delta have also been fined by the FAA.

In modern times, our machines are so reliable that we forget that flying five miles above in the earth in a pressurized metal tube that hurtles along 500 miles per hour is inherently dangerous. Things can and do go wrong, sometimes for no apparent reason and with no one to blame. It is at that time that the pilots truly earn their pay. The pilots of Southwest 1380 certainly earned theirs.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trump Quashes Haley's New Russia Sanctions

President Trump has put the brakes on new Russia sanctions designed to punish the Putin regime for its support of Syrian chemical weapons attacks. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the sanctions on Sunday on CBS' “Face the Nation.”

“You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down,” Haley said, adding that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin “will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already, and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.”

Not so fast, said the White House.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that President Trump was “upset” with the sanctions roll out because he was “not yet comfortable” with them and had not given final approval. After Haley's comments on television, the Trump Administration notified the Russian Embassy that no new sanctions were coming per a statement by a Russian Foreign Ministry official.

The confusion is characteristic of the Trump White House in which policy statements often seem to be made on a whim without the prior knowledge of senior advisors. For example, last month's announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum caught many White House officials by surprise as did his announcement that the US embassy in Israel would be relocated to Jerusalem.

There were conflicting reports over whether Haley made her statement before the sanctions were authorized or whether the president changed his mind about sanctions that were previously agreed upon. One source told the Post that Haley made “an error that needs to be mopped up” while others say that Haley is very disciplined and cautious and consults with the president over policy before making public statements. Haley has not addressed the comment since her appearance.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.” Other White House officials characterized the sanctions as being in a “holding pattern.”

The debate over new sanctions comes at a time when there are several problem areas in US-Russian relations. In addition to the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, there is tension over Russia's role in the Syrian civil war and Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Further, Russian hackers have been implicated by US intelligence officials in cyberattacks on the US power grid.

President Trump has a history of slow-walking sanctions on Russia. A near-unanimous Congress passed sanctions on Russia in 2017, but the Trump Administration has still not implemented them. A State Department spokesman said in January 2018, “Sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.” The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) allows President Trump to postpone the implementation of sanctions if he judges that the sanction targets are reducing their involvement with Russian defense and intelligence organizations. The Trump Administration did impose sanctions on 21 individuals under four Executive Orders.

The Trump Administration has also approved weapons sales to Ukraine. Since approving lethal aid to help Ukraine fend of Russian-backed insurgents, the US has delivered Javelin anti-tank missiles and launchers to the beleaguered nation even though the call for arming Ukraine was removed from the 2016 Republican platform.

In March, the US and its allies expelled scores of Russian diplomats to protest the murder of a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain. The Washington Post reported that Trump was reluctant to expel the Russians, but finally agreed on the condition that “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching [the number of diplomats expelled by Britain, France and Germany].” The paper reported that Trump was furious when the US expelled more Russians than the other countries.

The conflict in the White House underscores the tension between President Trump, the outsider, and his advisors, many of whom are longtime Republicans with traditional conservative national security views. The White House staff seems to be pushing for a more aggressive Russia policy while Trump, the Russophile and admirer of Vladimir Putin, seems to be resisting. Advisors like Haley put their powers of persuasion to the test, but President Trump makes the final call.  

Originally published on The Resurgent