Dueling Conspiracy Theories

As any right wing talk radio listener well knows, there’s a “deep state” conspiracy of intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with the legacy media and the Ukrainians, that’s been out to President Donald Trump since the day he announced his campaign. So far the conspirators haven’t been successful in their efforts, but at least they haven’t been caught.
An inspector general for the Department of Justice named Michael Horowitz was dispatched to expose the conspiracy’s efforts to launch a phony investigation of Russia’s alleged election meddling and spy on his campaign with informants and phone taps, but on Monday he issued a report concluding the investigation was based on solid evidence of wrongdoing rather than political bias and that no spying occurred. That won’t satisfy the die-hard Trump fans, though, and the conspiracy theorizing will continue.
Attorney General William Barr focused on the serious mistakes investigators had made in seeking a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and reached his own conclusion “that the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) laughed an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” He’s already launched another investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who took the unusual step of releasing a statement casting doubt on the inspector general’s report.
Perhaps Durham will be better luck exposing the conspiracy, but it won’t be easy. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, after all, and the “deep state” conspiracy theory makes some very extraordinary claims. All of America’s intelligence heads have confirmed that Russia ran a disinformation campaign hacked into Democratic party e-mail system and selectively leaked the most embarrassing missive, even the Trump appointees have confirmed the finding, as did a special counsel investigation that won an indictment of 13 Russians allegedly involved, and a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence agency also agreed. So far no one’s come up with any evidence that Russia was blameless and it was Ukraine that did the meddling, or a even a reasonable explanation for why Ukraine would be hacking and leaking Democratic e-mails and planting internet pro-Trump internet trolls to get Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton elected.
Also hard to explain is why a presumably left-wing “deep state” conspiracy is still conspiring to get Vice President Mike Pence promoted. Perhaps Pence is on it, as are a number of hand-picked Trump appointees, but that’s another extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.
At this point we not sure why Trump remains concerned about Russia’s meddling in the election, as it fizzled as an impeachment case and the die-hard fans don’t care if he was in on it, and it makes the Ukraine business look all the fishier, Our best guess is that Trump believes the die-hard fans will cling to the dangling possibility of Russia’s vindication also vindicating him, and neatly explain why he was heroically withholding congressional appropriated military from those nefarious Ukrainians, and that even if the House impeaches him none of the Republicans in the Senate would dare vote to remove him from office. That’s not a bad bet, as the die-hard fans have thus far proved willing to believe even Trump’s most extraordinary claims without any proof at all.
The strategy might not be sufficient by election day, however, as you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to believe any of it. If they’ve been paying any attention, all of the damned Democrats and most of those squishy independents and at least a few of us fed-up pre-Trump Republicans will conclude that Russia meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last election and intends to do so with Trump’s blessing next time around, that Trump withheld military aid from a country that is largely occupied with Russian troops, and that a president shouldn’t be doing such things.
Between the die-hard fans and all the people who aren’t paying any attention, and given the very strong possibility that the Democrats will again nominate an extraordinarily awful candidate, Trump still has a fighting chance. The unemployment rate is undeniably low despite his trade wars, even if they have hit the farming and manufacturing sectors Trump relies on particularly hard. No new wars have broken out, even if Trump has made a mess of the old ones in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, and he’s lately having a scary lover’s spat with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. If his luck holds up, and his voters are optimally spread around the electoral map, it might not matter about what happened in such faraway places with such unfamiliar people as Ukraine and Russia.
There’s always an outside chance the Democrats won’t once again nominate someone too extraordinarily awful, however, and with the manufacturing sector in a technical recession and farm foreclosures on the rise and much of the relative economic boom going on in states and suburbs where Trump does not poll well there’s no telling how the economy will play come election day. The dictator Kim has lately threatened to once again call Trump a dotard if Trump ever calls him “Rocket Man,” and is further threatening a more belligerent stance during the upcoming election, and given the state of the world and America relationships with it there’s no telling what’s likely to come up by next November.
If Trump’s luck doesn’t hold up, as it didn’t during his career as a casino mogul, his impeachment by the House and acquittal despite clear evidence in the Senate will be a problem.

— Bud Norman

The Last Straw

One of the weirdest of our many weird friends drinks her beer through a plastic straw, which isn’t even the weirdest thing about her. She’s a terrific friend and a very adept and energetic drummer for one of the best hard-rock bands in town, but she also believes that the Illuminati are secretly running everything with help from shape-shifting reptilian extraterrestrials, and she explained to us on Monday afternoon at Kirby’s Beer Store that Hillary Clinton is still dead but Jeffrey Epstein is still alive and well on some tropical island paradise.
Our friend’s political preferences when it comes down to a ballot choice are hard to predict, although we assume she usually votes for the fringe candidates at the bottom of the ballot, but President Donald Trump might have endeared himself to her with his steadfast opposition to those nosy know-it-all-liberals who want to ban plastic straws. The eco-fascists in several fancy cities have already banned plastic straws, there’s an organized effort afoot to ban them nationwide, and Trump has responded brilliantly responded by raising some $670 million in campaign funds selling Trump-branded plastic straws.
As much as we both dislike the guy, we and our weird friend would probably agree Trump is on the right side of this arcane issue. The paper straws that liberals prefer over the plastic variety don’t always last through an entire milkshake or malted milk, and we’re told by a weird friend of ours they can’t even survive a bottle of beer, and we can’t be fully convinced that the environmental impact of a few hundred millions of plastic straws justifies such a nosy intrusion into the way we and our weird friends live our lives.
We’ll gladly gulp down the melted-down last of a milk shake or malted milk if it comes down to it, and it’s not going to be a decisive issue for us when we cast our futile protest vote for some down-ballot fringe candidate in the next presidential election, but we think the Democrats would do well to stop being so damned bossy. We have a lot of very weird friends who would agree.

— Bud Norman

Let the Conspiracy Theorizing Begin

The world’s most infamous sex offender died by a reported suicide while in federal custody on Saturday, and already the internet is abuzz with various conspiracy theories about it. Jeffrey Epstein was far wealthier and better connected than your average sex offender, counting former President Bill Clinton and current President Donald Trump among his past party pals, and his death prevented a trial that might have embarrassed a lot of other wealthy and well-connected people, and there are the usual hard questions to be asked about what happened, so naturally the conspiracy theorists already have all the shocking answers.
Unsurprisingly, yet still disappointingly, Trump was quick to “re-tweet” a little-known comedian’s wholly unsubstantiated suggestion that Clinton and his wife Hillary had something to do with Epstein’s death.
Died of SUICIDE on on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH? Yeah, right! How does that happen,” the original poorly spelled and punctuated and capitalized “tweet” from someone named Terrence K. Williams said. “#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton and now he’s dead I see #Trumpbodycount now trending but we know who did this! RT if you’re not surprised. #EpsteinSuicide#ClintonBodycount#ClintonCrime Family”
We’re not fully fluent in internet lingo and its abbreviations and “hash tags” and various other offenses against standard English, but so far as we can tell a sitting President of the United States is passing along to his millions of “twitter followers” an entirely unproved allegation that a former President of the United States ordered a hit on a federal prisoner. The die-hard fans will probably give him credit for telling it like it is, and ramp up their chants of “lock her up” at the next campaign rally, but we’re hopeful the rest of us are properly appalled by such unpresidential and un-American behavior.
Not that we’ve ever been fans of the hound dog Clinton or his harridan wife, and we wouldn’t be entirely surprised by almost any awful thing you might prove about either of them, but we do demand a high degree of proof before convicting anyone accused of murder, even the Clintons. Even after so many years we’ve not been convinced that Vince Foster’s long ago suicide was actually a Clinton hit, nor that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria, and the rest of the hash-tagged #ClintonBodyCount also seems dubious. The plain facts about the Clintons disqualify them from prominence in the public square, as far we’re concerned, and we don’t see why the rally mobs want to lock ’em up on such baseless claims.
Trump should also know that his conspiracy-mongering could be counter-productive, as there are plenty of plausible questions about his own friendly relationship with Epstein, and the fact that Epstein died in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which answers to the Department of Justice, which answers to Trump’s appointed Attorney General, and the buck still stops somewhere higher up. Trump’s many detractors wouldn’t be surprised by any awful thing you might prove abut him, and most of them won’t demand much more proof than some comedian’s unproved insinuations, and that Williams guy does ask a hard question about how a federal prisoner died under the watch of the Trump administration.
Perhaps the diabolical #ClintonCrimeFamily somehow managed to kill America’s most infamous sex offender in a federal prison cell to cover up their role in an international sex ring of globalist elites, but even so there’s no denying that it happened on the Trump administration’s watch. If you follow the fascinating QAnon conspiracy theory, with t-shirts that regularly show up at Trump rallies, you know that Epstein and the Clintons were part of an elite international conspiracy of child-raping bankers and politicians, and that Trump was providentially sent to bring them to justice, despite his own friendly relationship with Epstein. Still, it’s hard-pressed to explain why Epstein is undeniably dead.
Conspiracy theories are entertaining and downright tantalizing, but for our final judgments we rely on Occam’s Razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is usually the best. We can easily believe that Epstein, already convicted of abusing underage girls and facing more severe penalties on the same charges, chose to end his life rather than live the rest of it in circumstances far less pleasurable circumstances than what he was accustomed to. Easy to believe, too, that a bureaucratic foul-up would let Epstein off himself even in the age of Trump.

— Bud Norman

What’s Happened Since Last Tuesday

The midterm elections were held way back last Tuesday, which seems an awfully long time ago, yet in some states around the country the results weren’t known until Monday, and of course in the great yet undeniably wacky state of Florida the votes are still being counted and hotly contested.
Not so long ago elections were almost always settled by at least the next Wednesday afternoon, but that was before the newfangled rules about vote-by-mail and provisional ballots and other get-out-the-vote innovations. We used to oppose these bleeding heart reforms on an old-fashioned Republican principle that voting should involve the small patriotic sacrifice of registering down at the county hall showing up at the polls come rain or shine, as it tends to keep out the riff-raff, but nowadays we have some aging and still patriotic parents who voted by mail because a trip to a polling place ad a wait in line is a rather onerous imposition, so we suppose we’ll put up the new rules so long as they are strictly enforced according the letter of the law, no matter how it turns out.
So far all that meticulous vote-counting hasn’t turned out well for the Republicans. On election night the Fox News Network was the first to call a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, all the other networks confirmed that a few cautious hours later, and since then the Democrats have padded that majority with several more seats, including one held by the unabashedly pro-Trump and pro-Russian Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in a usually reliable district of suburban southern California. On election night Republican senatorial nominee Martha McSally was leading Democratic nominee Krysten Simena, which gave the Republicans some brief bragging rights about their slightly padded slim majority in the Senate races where they should have done better, but by Monday afternoon McSally and her cute dog Boomer were giving an endearingly gracious concession speech with best wishes to her victorious Democratic opponent.
The Republicans might yet win the hotly-contested and already-litigated races for governor and senator down in the great yet undeniably wacky state of Florida, but no matter how it turns out we aren’t expecting any gracious concession speeches. So far as we can tell from this distance the Democrats running the show in Florida’s astoundingly populous and reliably Democratic Broward County areas usual utterly inept, but we’ve not yet heard any convincing evidence from President Donald Trump or any other Republican conspiracy-theorists that they’re corrupt. We’re hopeful
that those wonderful if wacky Floridians will have every one of their votes more or less counted accurately, and from this distance we figure the Republicans will win if that happens, and should be glad to have their victory approved by the courts and all objective observers, but the races are always so close down there that we’re not expecting any comity on either side not matter how it turns out.
Even so, we’re pleased to note that crucial institutions and rules of law and old-fashioned political traditions seem to persist in most places. That Arizona senate race featured an impressive centrist Republican against an impressive centrist Democrat vying to be the state’s first woman senator for the reliably Republican state of arch-conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater and swing-vote Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and maverick Sen. John McCain. We’re sure all those iconic Republican Arizonans would be proud that their Republican-run and law-and-order state counted all the votes, even if it did mean a damned Democrat won a Senate seat, and that their candidate showed such class in defeat.
The Republicans lost a senate seat in Arizona and a House seat and a governorship in Kansas, along with losses in several reliably Republican districts of such Democratic states as California and suburban districts everywhere, including some crucial swing states, but they should be glad the votes are all being counted and that old-fashioned Republicans are signing off on it,and upholding the party’s law-and-order reputation. Sooner or later, and we’re hoping sooner rather than later, that will work out for them.

— Bud Norman

The “Tweets” of Crazed Celebrities

If America had a more cerebral and less celebrity-addled popular culture few people would much care what the likes of Roseanne Barr “tweets,” and that guy from “The Apprentice” wouldn’t be President of the United States. As things stand now, though, attention must be paid to both.
For those of you spent Tuesday in a coma, the American Broadcasting Company abruptly cancelled the highly-rated “Roseanne” sitcom after its eponymous star unleashed a series of stunningly stupid “tweets.” One claimed that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton had married into the family of controversial left-wing billionaire George Soros. Another alleged Soros had collaborated with the Nazis when they occupied his native Hungary. In the one that got her fired just a few hours later, she joked that Valerie Jarrett, a black woman and former top advisor to President Barack Obama, was the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
We’ve never cared much for Clinton or either of her parents, but she clearly got the better of the exchange when she classily and correctly “tweeted” back that in fact her husband has no relation to Soros. Although we don’t think much of Soros, either, we’ve seen no proof that as a 14-year-old Jew in an occupied country he was ever friendly to the Nazis. Over the Obama years we had our complaints about Jarrett, too, but we always took care to state them without resort to such flat-out and stone-cold racist tropes as comparing her to a monkey. As far as we’re concerned, ABC made the right call.
The “tweets” were somehow shocking to bien pensant sensibilities even though they were not at all surprising. Barr has always been an obnoxious crazy-pants conspiracy theorist, going back to the days when the original “Roseanne” was a critically-acclaimed hit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when only the people on the right seemed to notice.
The first run of her sitcom depicted a white working class family struggling to make ends meet during the supposedly horrible Reagan-Bush era, ostentatiously featured several homosexual characters, and delivered even the funny lines with an unmistakably feminist smugness, so the left largely adored her. When she delivered a deliberately screeching rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at a major league baseball game and followed it with a crotch-grab and a spit it was lauded as daring satire. When she embraced the “truther” conspiracy theory that President George W. Bush was responsible for the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon she was defended on free speech principles. When she posed for a magazine as Hitler making “Jew cookies” some tried to explain it as satire.
By the time Barr tried to win the far-left Green Party’s presidential nomination and wound up running as the nominee of something called the Peace and Freedom Party we largely ignored by almost everyone. Her sitcom had concluded with a low-rated final season that was widely panned by the critics and hated by the fans, her limited acting range had yielded only a couple of roles in flop movies, a reality show on an obscure cable network yielded minuscule ratings, and at first no one seemed to notice what a strange turn her craziness had taken. She embraced the “birther” theory that Obama had been born in Kenya and was constitutionally ineligible to be president, insisted that all the hotter stars in Hollywood were manipulated agents of the Central Intelligence Agency through its “MK-Ultra Mind Control” projects, appeared frequently on the Russian dictatorship’s “Russia Today” propaganda network on your cable dial, and wound up as one of the few Hollywood celebrities who endorsed the presidential campaign of that guy from “The Apprentice.”
After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, however, the programming executives at ABC were suddenly receptive to the pitch that a re-boot of “Roseanne” catching up with that same wisecracking struggling-to-make-ends-meet white working class family in this glorious Trumpian new day might have some appeal to the popular minority but electoral majority of Americans who ushered it in. The re-boot featured the entire original cast, including including the critically-acclaimed and generically Hollywood thespians who played the husband and daughter and sister of the title character, as well as the former child actor who had to take time off from an even bigger hit sit-com, but the advance publicity made clear that Barr’s titular and obviously autobiographical character was decidedly pro-Trump, and the premiere episode drew 18 million viewers and even some grudgingly positive reviews by critics who noted that the husband and daughter and sister got in a few jabs of their own. Shortly after that, he show was renewed for a second season.
Back in the three-network days of “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Fugitive” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” a mere 18 million viewers would have cancelled a show before its second episode, much less the 10 million viewers that the season finale drew, but in these days of a billion or so cable channels and the gazillion or so options on the internet those are both pretty impressive numbers for any old American broadcasting company. Trump gloated about it at one of his still ongoing campaign rallies, telling his die-hard fans that “the show is about us” and predicting that Hollywood’s greed would force it to adhere once again to their all-American values. After that, it was the post-Trump right that overlooked Barr’s craziness.
Trump was an even more prominent “birther,” so that craziness was easily forgivable. Although Trump never was a “truther,” be did win the Republican party’s presidential nomination parroting the left’s “Bush lied, people died” lie about the intelligence reports of intelligence about the Iraq War. Even Trump has never mentioned the “MK-Ultra Mind Control Project” during his conspiracy theorizing, but he and his die-hard fans and even ourselves have to admit there’s something pretty darned suspicious about who’s hot in Hollywood these days. As for the appearances on “Russia Today,” the Trump campaign’s foreign policy and the Trump administration’s first National Security Advisor was paid to sit next next to the Russian dictator at a dinner in honor of the propaganda network, so that’s no big deal. At this point, all the die-hard fans who hate those pro football players for kneeling during the national anthem have long-forgotten bar’s screeching and crotch-grabbing and spitting rendition of their beloved song. Trump didn’t mention Barr at his latest campaign rally, but he did recall some rapper at a Hillary Clinton campaign two years ago using the same foul language he had used at his events, and his apologists on talk radio and other conservative media rightly recalled all the leftist entertainers’ outrageous statements and outright craziness.
At this point pretty much everyone’s a hypocrite, except for those of us on the left and right who always spotted Barr as the pure product of a stupid and celebrity-addled popular culture. From our current vantage point on the sidelines of America’s cultural and political wars we feel free to make the calls against either side, and we say good riddance to both Barr and all the fashionable causes and crazy-pants conspiracy theories and reality show candidates se ever championed.

— Bud Norman

“Operation Cross-Fire Hurricane” and Its Controversies and Spin-Offs

The whole “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” that has tormented President Donald Trump since even before he took office has lately become all the more complicated lately, what with the latest revelations about “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”
Thanks to to the diligent journalism of The New York Times, we now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a few agents looking into suspicions about the Russian government’s meddling in the last presidential election and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with that effort in a highly secretive investigation code-named “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” a full 100 days before any votes were cast in Trump’s unlikely electoral college upset. As one might expect, The New York Times’ bombshell scoop has set off a lot of spinning on both sides of the political spectrum.
in his “tweets” Trump always calls the paper the “failing New York Times,” and his die-hard defenders always sneeringly call it the “The New York Slimes,” but in this case they’re not complaining that “The Old Gray Lady” is “fake news.” In this case they think it vindicates their longstanding theory that the FBI and the broader Justice Department and thus the administration of President Barack Obama and the rest of the “deep state” were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow Trump’s presidency with a “silent coup” even before he was so improbably elected. Meanwhile, on the left, they’re highlighting the fact that a few savvy feds were suspicious about Trump’s Russian-friendly stances and Russia Trump-friendly stances all along.
In any case both sides seem to agree that The New York Times is entirely accurate in its account of the origins of the still-ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and from our recent perspective on the sidelines the left seems to be getting the best of it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders had previously theorized that the whole “Russia thing” conspiracy began with a former British intelligence officer’s shocking report about Trump and Russia that was originally commissioned by some anti-Trump Republicans but later subsidized by the Democratic Party and the campaign of its nominee Hillary Clinton, but that’s no longer operative on talk radio. For now they accept the Times’ account that it all began when a Trump campaign staffer got drunk in a London pub and bragged to an Australian diplomat about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship, which quickly led to an FBI watch of that staffer and then a campaign foreigb policy advisor and much-higher-raking foreign policy and then the campaign manager. This is all the proof you need, to hear the talk radio talkers tell it, that your federal government’s law enforcement agencies and judiciary were in on a “deep state” “witch hunt” to unseat Trump even before he was seated.
Which seems plausible enough in these crazy times, but there are some troubling and no longer denied facts that give one pause.
The drunkenly talkative staffer who bragged to the Australian diplomat that Trump was getting dirt on Clinton is Carter Page, who was previously on the FBI’s radar as a suspected agent and has since been seriously indicted on various charges. The campaign foreign policy adviser was George Popadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing.” The higher-ranking campaign foreign policy is retired four-star Marine general Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the Trump administration’s national security advisor, but he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his lucrative contacts with the Russians and is said to be cooperating with the “witch hunt” rather than face various other charges that have been brought. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hasn’t pleaded guilty to anything yet, despite the numerous indictments he’s facing and all his previous federal filings as an agent for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian dictatorship, but his former lobbying partner Rick Gates has already entered a guilty plea for his perjury about past Russian contacts and is now cooperating the “Russia thing” investigations.
Senior member of the the Manafort, Black, Stone & Kelly lobbying-for-dictators firm Roger Stone, a scandalous figure since his days as one of President Richard Nixon’s self-proclaimed “rat fuckers,” hasn’t yet been indicted or even interviewed by the special counsel investigation, but that suggests the special counsel’s slow but steady investigation is saving him for next-to-laston its interrogation list..
At this point the left is gloating that they’ve nearly got the goods on on Trump, and what’s left of the right since Trump was elected is indignant that we only know about it because of some “deep state” conspiracy, and although for the moment they both agree on The New York Times’ version of the facts we don’t see it ending well in any case. The left is prematurely closing its case, the right is prematurely invoking Nixon’s defense that “if a president of the United States does it it isn’t illegal,” and in these times the rest of country probably won’t much give a damn in any case.
We didn’t much care for that awful Clinton woman, and were disappointed when the FBI investigations into her scandalous e-mail practices and other shady dealings didn’t yield any indictments or guilty pleas, but at least that FBI director Trump wound up firing publicly admitted to an investigation of the the matter and publicly excoriated her for her “extreme carelessness” in matters of national security, and announced a re-investigation after he longtime aide’s husband’s laptop full of selfie-sex pics was discovered. That cost that awful Clinton woman the election, as far as she’s still concerned, and as far as we’re concerned she deserved it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders are now grousing that the  Obama-era FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, but we don’t much care for them, either, and despite our longstanding doubts about the FBI and the “deep state” everyone now seems to admit they didn’t let word of their early and now well-documented suspicious become public until long after Trump had been inaugurated. If “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” was an illegal conspiracy to prevent Trump from becoming president it was an objectively spectacular failure, and it remains to be seen how the conspiracy theories on the right will save Trump’s presidency.
That awful Clinton woman is still as awful as ever, as far as we’re concerned, but she’s by now undeniably and thankfully irrelevant, while that awful Trump fellow is also currently under investigation for hush money payments to porno performers and payments from the Chinese government after concessions to a dubious Chinese telephone company and a $500 million payment by the Chinese government to a Trump-branded development in Indonesia and a whole lot else. At this point, we’re only hoping the truth will out.

— Bud Norman

Stranger, and Worse, Than Fiction

Pity the poor fool who tries to write a legal potboiler or political satire novel these days. The most fervid imagination might devise a plot that combines Russian intrigue, Playboy centerfold models and a pornographic video actresses, ruthlessly efficient prosecutors and comically inept defense attorneys, a petulant and impulsive president with plenty of other subplots, and a slew of conspiracy theories to explain it all, but the publishers will find it hackneyed.
The combined talents of John Grisham and Jonathan Swift couldn’t top the last couple of days of headlines in your local newspaper.
Acting on a tip from the special counsel investigation looking into the “Russia thing,” federal agents have lately executed an extraordinary search warrant on the president’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” who has admitted paying $130,000 to a pornographic video actress in exchange for her silence about an affair the president denies ever happened. The payment can be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, as well as a reported similar payment of hush money to a Playmate centerfold model through the National Enquirer tabloid, which no fiction writer would have ever thought of, and there are reports the lawyer was also suspected of illegally dealing once-lucrative New York City taxi medallions, but what they find in the voluminous records that were seized from Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” might also shed some light on that “Russia thing.”
The petulant and impulsive president griped at length about it in front of all the network news cameras on Monday, prior to a cabinet meeting ostensibly about a response to Syria’s recent chemical attack on its own people in a Syrian civil war that Trump had earlier announced we’ll soon be pulling out off. He criticized his own Attorney General and deputy attorney general and pretty much the entirety of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the independent judiciary that had signed off even those extraordinary search warrants and indictments. He repeatedly used the words “disgrace” or “disgraceful,” hinted that people might be fired, and later “tweeted” that he was the victim of “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!”
You don’t have to delve into the depths of right-wing conspiracy theory sites to to hear sites to hear sympathetic arguments. Several of the hosts on influential Fox News network and several prominent talk radio hosts argue that a raid on a lawyer for information about one of his clients is an egregious violation of the sacred lawyer client-relationship, and is further proof that the “deep state” of professional employees in the DOJ and FBI and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy are conspiring are conspiring to overthrow a duly elected American president. It is highly unusual for a search warrants to be executed any old defense attorney, there is indeed a more-or-less permanent federal bureaucracy which doesn’t much like the president, and all of them have their flaws, so there’s something to it.
Being the sorts of old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republicans that we are, though, we’re not at all convinced that our duly constituted system of government’s carefully considered laws and the independent judiciary that enforces them is more a “disgrace” than our petulant and impulsive president. So far as we can tell the legal concept of lawyer-client privilege is still well respected by the system, and that the duly-appointed prosecutors had to provide some pretty damned convincing evidence to the duty appointed judges to get such a warrant on the highly unusual exception where criminal activity by the lawyer is involved, and we note that almost everyone involved in the process is a Republican of longer standing than the president.
We’ll not dare venture a guess about what comes next, but the president is conspicuously hinting he’s going to fire people, has made quite clear that his longtime lawyer and “fixer” is on his own regarding that hush money to the porn actress, and he’s short another inept lawyer against those ruthless prosecutors who have thus far won warrants and indictments and guilty pleas from the independent judiciary, and has been having trouble finding suitable replacements. There’s no telling how this stranger-than-fiction tale might turn out, but our limited imaginations can’t see how it turns out well.

— Bud Norman

Fusion GPS Goes Public at Last

One of the main subplots of the “Russia thing” soap opera, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a dossier of information compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleging that President Donald Trump had a long history of shady business dealings with various Russian organizations and that the Russian government worked diligently to get him elected. It also had some very salacious stories about Russian prostitutes, which delighted all the late night comics, and it’s gotten a lot of attention.
To Trump’s die-hard defenders, what was scandalous about the dossier was its very existence. Although it was first commissioned by the right-of-center Washington Free Beacon, which was hoping to stave off Trump’s insurgent campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, and then funded by some unknown Republican donor who still held out faint hope in latter stages of the primary race, it was eventually funded by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and that’s enough to taint it on talk radio. The former British intelligence agent relied on the sources he’d developed as the MI6 agency’s top Moscow spy, and apparently that’s what Trump means when claims that Clinton and the Democrats colluded with the Russians. There were a couple of quickly proved errors, too, and much was hard to verify.
What Trump’s defenders called the “dodgy dossier” or the “debunked dossier” and even the mainstream news is now calling the “infamous dossier” quickly became it’s own scandal. It was alleged that the dossier was the evidence presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to open the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-intelligence probe into Russian meddling in the American presidential election, and therefore all of its findings should are the fruit of a poisoned tree. Last summer that Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee hauled in the top two people at Fusion GPS, the private investigating firm started by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporters that had hired the former British intelligent agent, and grilled them for ten straight hours of a closed hearing. Information about the testimony was leaked that allowed the talk radio hosts to paint the pair as a couple of conspirators out to smear Trump’s stellar reputation, and their dossier as “dodgy” and “debunked” and at the very least “infamous.”
On Monday the top two Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, even referred that British intelligence agent to federal law enforcement for criminal investigation. That was apparently a step two far one of the committee’s top Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who audaciously defied her Republican colleagues and longstanding tradition by releasing all 300 pages of that long ago testimony by the two guys at Fusion GPS.
The two guys at Fusion GPS had always insisted their testimony be made public, and so had a lot of other people who suspected that they’d made a better case for themselves than the talk radio talkers suggested with the selectively leaked information. As it turns out, it’s clear why they wanted the testimony made public and the Republicans didn’t.
They credibly deny any political motivations, rightly noting they offer their opposition research services to both Republicans and Democrats, testified they found reasons to believe federal law enforcement also had sources warning of Russian meddling in the election, and noted that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent they’d hired, had an excellent reputation with America’s intelligence agencies. Recent reports suggest that one of those sources was the Australian ambassador to the United States, who reported to the American former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Popadopoulos had been drinking with him one evening and bragged that his candidate had dirt on his Democratic rival straight from the Russian government, reports indicate that others who listen in on Russian calls had passed along similar warnings, and that happened before Steele started snooping around.
We’re not clear what criminal acts Grassley and Graham think that Steele might have committed, but he doesn’t seem convincing as the bad guy in the whole “Russia thing.” Despite the aforementioned quickly proved errors in what he frankly acknowledged was raw and unfinished intelligence gathering, and even though a lot of it has not yet been verified by a subpoena-wielding special counsel probe, much of it holds up well. Steele’s early allegation that the Russians were making a concerted effort to help Trump in the election is now the consensus opinion of America’s intelligence community, Trump’s Central Intelligence director has blamed the Russians for the hacking of the DNC, his Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged Russian hacking attempts on 20 state election offices, all the social media sites have testified to Congress that the Russians used them to spread propaganda, and Trump himself begrudgingly mumbles his slightly equivocating agreement. Steele called the FBI to warn them of Russian meddling, which is more than Donald Trump Jr. did when some Russians he knew to be connected to the Kremlin offered dirt on Clinton, and even the talk radio conspiracy theories are based on the assumption that his word was good enough for the FBI and the FISA court.
There’s also been a lot of solid reporting by respected publications and broadcast programs around the world that backs up Steele’s accounts of Trump’s shady dealings with Russians, the aforementioned idiot Trump Jr. has bragged to the press about all the Russian money flowing into the family’s still wholly-owned businesses, and the special counsel team of investigators includes some lawyers famed for their past money-laundering and Russian mob prosecutions. The special counsel already has a couple of guilty pleas, including the aforementioned idiot Papadopoulos, as well Trump’s short-lived and very Russia-connected national security advisor Mike Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently contesting a variety of Russia-related charges, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is clearly in the investigative cross-hairs, and the special counsel has reportedly requested an interview with Trump himself.
Trump’s lawyers will probably protect him from anything short of some written answers to written questions, and his defenders on “Fox & Friends” and talk radio and the Senate intelligence committee will surely come up with some spin, but from our seat on the sidelines the “Russia thing” doesn’t seem likely to end soon. We’ll not venture any predictions how it all turns out, and it may all turn out to be a grand conspiracy between the “deep state” and the “globalists” to prevent Trump from making American great again, but we don’t expect that those Fusion GPS guys and that former British intelligence agent turn out to be the bad guys.

— Bud Norman

Our Plea for Antidisestablishmentarianism

The term “deep state,” like “establishment” or “globalist” or “elites,” is one of those vaguely defined but very sinister coinages that have lately infected the political discourse. We first became aware of the “deep state” when it started showing up at the conspiracy theory we visit for yucks, but then it was picked by the right ring radio talkers on the AM and some of the hosts on Fox News, and now it’s being “tweeted” by President Donald Trump.
“Crooked Hillary’s top aid Human Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols,” Trump wrote in his characteristic presidential prose. “She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must act? Also on Comey and others”
Which we found troubling for several reasons. Aside from the mangled syntax and arbitrary capitalizations and missing punctuation marks, and the usual difficulty in understanding just what the hell guy is trying to say, Trump seems to be calling the imprisonment of a vanquished political foe, and that strikes us as a bit banana republic-ish. He’s also calling for Abedin’s imprisonment based on a mere accusation, apparently from a very friendly conservative web site, and we’d like to think he has better sources of information at hand. Given all the accusations that have been leveled against Trump, from far more numerous and reliable sources, we also think he’d prefer that the due processes of the justice system be strictly adhered to before anyone gets locked up. What’s most worrisome, though, is that Trump regards all those other news sources as “fake news” and his own Justice Department as part of some nebulous but undoubtedly nefarious “deep state.”
The conspiracy theorists who first coined the term used it to describe a very specific plot by certain high-ranking members of the bureaucracy, the worst of them being those wily spooks in the intelligence community, and so far as we can tell it’s all part of some broader international conspiracy involving the Illuminati or the Masons or whoever else is actually running everything from the behind the scenes. By the time talk radio talkers and Fox hosts started using it “deep state” seemed to mean the entirety of the permanent civil bureaucracy, with the far ore plausible theory that they collectively had a vested interest in the continued growth of government and were thus resistant to conservative governance, but they sill made it sound more sinister than the usual boring matters of competing political interests. So far as we can tell, Trump defines the “deep state” as anyone in government — including the co-equal judicial and legislative branches — who would dare challenge his authority.
The conspiracy theorists and talk radio talkers and those Fox hosts and especially Trump himself seem to have a similar disdain for anyone who would challenge presidential authority, at least for so long as Trump is president, so the “deep state” is merely a small part of a broader “establishment” that seeks to prevent him from making America great. The “establishment” includes all the “fake news,” of course, but also all of those “globalist” multi-national corporations that have been exploiting American workers, and all the pointy-headed academicians and Hollywood hot shorts and so called policy experts with their supposedly fancy-schmantzy degrees who comprise the “elites.”
We’re no fans of Huma Abedin, and we loathed her longtime boss since way back when Trump was contributing to his campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the best Secretary of State ever, but we’d hate to see her “tweeted” off to prison just to see a blow struck against the “deep state.” When the Trump rally crowds chanted “lock her up” about Abedin’s boss during the campaign, which always struck us as chillingly banana republic-ish, they did so with a deep-seated that only some deep and well-established could have allowed such nasty women to achieve power, and that only such a gifted orator with such man-sized hands as Donald Trump could see that justice was done, but that all looks rather ridiculous right now.
Trump still believes a “rigged system” cost him three million votes and popular landslide, but the people who secretly run everything could spread less than a hundred thousand of them around Pennsylvania and Michigan and a couple of other very closely contested states, and he won an electoral victory wound up president. Clinton is now an unemployed grandmother wanting around the woods of upstate New York, widely reviled within her own party and forever to be known as the woman who lost to the likes of Donald Trump, and no longer poses a threat to anybody. The “deep state” couldn’t keep Abedin’s once politically-prominent husband from going to jail for texting dirty pictures of his private parts to underage girls, or provide her some sinecure to provide for their child, and she no longer seems at all frightening.
The combined forces of the “deep state” and the “establishment” and the “globalists” and “elites” don’t seem very scary, either, given that they couldn’t keep the likes of Trump from winning the White House. There’s still a permanent bureaucracy, but if you get a government check or might need a Federal Emergency Management Agency helicopter to rescue you from a foot you’ll be glad of that. There are still multinational corporations, but we note that the tax bill Trump recently signed gives them a huge break by adopting the “territorial” laws that bring America more into line with the global market. The “fake news” is still sticking around, but they’re far more reliably true than Trump’s “tweets,” and these days there are plenty talk radio shows and Fox News programs and conservative web sites around to grouse about what Clinton and Abedin once did. A lot of the pointy-headed policy experts with the fancy-schmantzy academic credentials are lately consigned to think tank work, or even worse, but the rank amateurs who’ve replaced them don’t seem be faring much better.
What used to be called “conservatism” held that certain institutions which had been painstakingly established over generations of trial-and-error were necessary to maintain a civilizations progress, and that these included an independent judiciary and a free press along with scholarly class and even a permanent bureaucracy. These days conservatism seems regard all that as the “establishment,” and the rallying cry of the Trumpian right is “burn it down.” We hate find ourselves sympathizing with the likes of Abedin and her boss, but that’s not what we signed up for.
Trump seems eager to burn it all down before before those “deep state” lawyers in the special counsel office bring any more indictments against his campaign and administration officials, or perhaps Trump himself, but he should hope it sticks around long enough to offer him some due process. He’s been accused of doing things even worse than Abedin has been accused of doing, or so we read somewhere, and he’s currently the president, which makes him somewhat scarier than a single mom seeking low-visibility employment, and the crowds can turn on a dime, and chants of “lock him up” are already roaring from all sorts of non-elite places.
— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Back, and Nobody’s Got It

Hillary Clinton is back in the news these days, which we’d think that would be the last the place she’d want to be. She’s got a new book to plug, though, so we can well understand how she’d be glad of any publicity she can get. As a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States she’s understandably uncomfortable outside the spotlight, too, and after the past couple of years one can hardly blame her for wanting to get a few things off her chest.
We haven’t yet read Clinton’s book, and probably won’t get around to it for long while, but the publicity campaign’s shrewdly pre-released excerpts and the accompanying interviews with the author have been unavoidable, and they’ve all been undeniably newsworthy. The book is titled “What Happened” — we admire her restraint in not adding a certain common curse word, given the current degraded state of political discourse — and follows with a number of explanations that are likely to generate sales but won’t please any Republican and seems to have annoyed most of the Democrats.
These days most Democrats are understandably annoyed that Clinton is back in the news at all, given how she always reminds all those increasingly reluctant Trump voters why they voted for him in the first place. Nor does the growing base of her increasingly leftward party appreciate her criticisms of self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose criticisms of her lucrative relationship with Wall Street interests she blames for making Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” taunts seem plausible to the undecideds. She blames the Democratic establishment as well as its anti-establishment for her loss, admits to a couple of minor mistakes, and although she goes on with some very serious accusations against President Donald Trump she seems to be relenting her longstanding leadership in the Democratic party.
Although we’ve long loathed that horrible woman, from way back in the days when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and praising her as the best Secretary of State ever, we regard her as a formidable foe and take due heed of a couple of her parting warnings. She truly was compromised by all that money she’d been paid by Goldman-Sachs and the rest of those Wall Street guys, and Trump didn’t need Sanders to tell him that, but a more honest Clinton would admit it and then note that Trump’s administration was as fully-staffed as ever by Goldman-Sachs guys, which might have helped stave off the leftward lurch in the Democratic party that might conceivably ensure a second Trump administration. Her conspiracy theories about Russia’s internet disinformation efforts being coordinated with domestic partisan agents lately don’t seem at all far-fetched, and we advise our Republican readers to take them very seriously.
As loathsome as she was, Clinton was always a formidable foe, so by  the same Republican instincts with which we regard all those fallen Confederates we wish her well, and won’t begrudge any small monument the Democrats might raise some day. We hope she’ll use those swollen book royalties to lavish gifts on her grandchildren and contribute to other worthy charities, and use that influence-peddling foundation of hers to good means, enjoy her walks in the upper state New York woods, and find God’s grace in those Methodist services she’s long attended. Should her admittedly impressive intellect and many years as a First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive first woman President of the United States yield any other noteworthy warnings, we’ll try to take note.
— Bud Norman